How to Start a Daycare in Washington D.C.

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At, our articles are penned by a dynamic team of seasoned experts who've spent years in the trenches with kids and daycare center owners. Imagine a mix of laughter, learning, and aha moments distilled into every article! From playful tips for early childhood education to navigating the wild ride of daycare provider life, we're your go-to source for reliable info with a side of fun.

To start a daycare in Washington D.C.

  • Begin by thoroughly researching state regulations and licensing requirements for childcare facilities. Familiarize yourself with the District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), which oversees licensing and compliance.
  • Whether you are performing in-home childcare or overseeing a large preschool and daycare facility, leveraging tools such as SimplySafeChild’s childcare management software can greatly benefit your operations. The software seamlessly manages alerts, payments, and automation, streamlining your daycare’s management process and reducing the need for additional staff, making it easier to run your daycare smoothly, regardless of its size.
  • Next, develop a comprehensive business plan outlining your daycare’s mission, services, target market, budget, and staffing needs.
  • Secure a suitable location that complies with zoning laws and safety regulations, ensuring it has ample indoor and outdoor space for children to play and learn.
  • Obtain the necessary permits and licenses, including background checks for yourself and any staff members.
  • Consider investing in liability insurance to protect your business and its clients.
  • Additionally, create engaging curriculum and activities tailored to different age groups, focusing on early childhood development and education.
  • Market your daycare through local advertising, a com listing, social media, and community outreach to attract families in need of childcare services.
  • Finally, prioritize safety, cleanliness, and nurturing care to build trust with parents and provide a positive environment for children to thrive.

Understanding whether or not you need a license

If you’re considering opening a childcare facility in Washington, D.C., it’s crucial to understand the specific licensing requirements set by the District of Columbia’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). The capital has strict guidelines for anyone looking to start a daycare center or a preschool within their home, emphasizing the need for a license for nearly all daycare operations.

Childcare Licensing Types in Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C., categorizes childcare programs into three distinct types, each with its own set of guidelines:

Child Development Centers: These facilities cater to more than 12 children and are not located in the provider’s home. They encompass various childcare models, including preschools, childcare centers, nursery schools, and programs for before and after school.

Child Development Homes (Family Childcare Homes): Designed for smaller groups, these homes provide care for up to six children and operate within the provider’s personal residence.

Expanded Child Development Homes: A step up from the standard child development home, these settings offer care for six to twelve children, allowing for a more extensive operation while still maintaining a home-based environment.

Exemptions from Licensing

It’s important to note that not every childcare arrangement in Washington, D.C., requires a license. Exemptions include casual babysitting for family members, childcare services offered within places of worship during religious activities, and informal or occasional parent-supervised playgroups.

Daycare in Washington D.C.

Childcare Licensing Requirements by Type

Navigating childcare licensing in Washington, D.C. requires understanding specific requirements tailored to different childcare program types. It’s vital to identify your program category and comply with all regulations before applying for a license.

Child Development Center Licensing

Director Qualifications:

To operate, a child development center must appoint a qualified director. Eligibility criteria include:

  • A Bachelor’s degree or higher in early childhood education or development plus one year of experience in a D.C. licensed center.
  • An Associate’s degree in early childhood education or development plus three years of experience, with the pursuit of a Bachelor’s degree.
  • 48 credit hours, including 15 in early childhood education or development, plus four years of experience, for those employed as directors in D.C.
  • Montessori School Directors need a Montessori certificate and three years of supervised experience in a licensed D.C. child development center.

Teacher Qualifications:

Teachers at these centers must:

  • Hold an Associate’s degree or higher in a relevant field or,
  • Have 48 semester hours, including 15 in relevant subjects, and two years of experience, with an ongoing pursuit of an Associate’s degree or,
  • Have a high school diploma/GED and a current Child Development Associate (CDA) credential, aiming to earn an Associate’s degree within four years.
  • Montessori teachers require an Associate’s degree and a Montessori certificate.

All staff, including directors and teachers, must clear drug and alcohol tests, traffic records checks, and criminal background checks, as detailed in the OSSE’s Licensing Orientation packet for new centers.

Facility Requirements:

Child development centers must also adhere to strict building and space standards to create a conducive learning environment:

  • Your daycare, child care center, must contract 45 square feet of program space per infant.
  • 35 square feet per toddler/child (unencumbered space).
  • 45 square feet per child (encumbered space).
  • One toilet and sink for every ten children.
  • At least 60 square feet of outdoor play space per child.
  • Separate restrooms for staff and an isolation area for sick children.
  • Safe, clean, and well-maintained age-appropriate toys and furniture.
  • These comprehensive guidelines ensure the safety and well-being of children in childcare settings across Washington, D.C.

Ratio Requirements

Child development centers serving infants, toddlers, and preschoolers must maintain the following adult-to-child ratios and group sizes:

Age of children Adult-to-child ratio Maximum group size
0 months – 24 months 1:4 8
24 months – 30 months 1:4 12
30 months – 48 months 1:8 16
48 months – 60 months 1:10 20

Child development centers and daycares must have at least two faculty members supervising each group at all times. When children of different ages are combined into one group, the adult-to-child ratio for the youngest age applies.

Child Development Home and Expanded Child Development Home Licensing

The requirements for these two types of care are similar, but with some important differences

Caregiver Qualifications:

  • Must reside and work within the licensed home premises.
  • At least 18 years of age with a high school diploma or equivalent.
  • Obtain a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential within two years.
  • Annually attend four approved child development training sessions, totaling 12 hours.
  • Fulfill health and safety training mandates.

Expanded Home Caregiver Qualifications:

In addition to the basic requirements, expanded home caregivers need

  • an associate degree or higher in early childhood education or a related field, or a high school diploma with a CDA credential, committing to earn a degree within three years.
  • Must have a year of experience in a licensed child development home or center in D.C. or an equivalent setting.
  • Pass drug and alcohol tests, traffic records, and criminal background checks.

Daycare in Washington D.C.

Facility Requirements:

  • The home must ensure indoor and outdoor spaces are safe, clean, and well-equipped, avoiding prohibited items like walkers and projectile toys.
  • Must include storage, group space, a food preparation area, and individual sleeping arrangements for full-day enrolled children.
  • Keep hazardous materials and poisons securely locked and away from children.
  • Diaper-changing stations should be positioned near running water, separate from kitchen areas, with adequate space for both active and quiet play.
  • The facility should provide enough materials, games, equipment, and books for the children.
  • For detailed guidelines on operating a child development home, including expanded homes, refer to the OSSE’s Child Development Home Licensing Orientation packet.

Ratio Requirements

Child development homes and expanded homes serving infants, toddlers, and preschoolers must maintain the following adult-to-child ratios and group sizes:

Age of children Adult-to-child ratio Maximum number of children enrolled
1 child under 2 years of age and 1 to 11 children over 2 years of age 1:6 12
2 children under 2 years of age and 1 to 4 children over 2 years of age 1:6 6
3 children under 2 years of age and 1 to 6 children over 2 years of age 1:3 (but at least 2 caregivers) 9
4 children under 2 years of age and 1 to 8 children over 2 years of age 1:3 (but at least 2 caregivers) 12
5 children under 2 years of age and 1 to 4 children over 2 years of age 3 caregivers 9
6 children under 2 years of age and 1 to 3 children over 2 years of age 3 caregivers 9

How to apply for licensing in Washington, D.C.

The District of Columbia maintains a streamlined process for licensing child development centers, homes, and expanded homes. All potential providers start by attending a licensing orientation webinar and passing a quiz. The entire process typically spans between one to three months.

Child Development Centers: Application Overview

Step 1: Orientation

Attend the licensing orientation webinar, pass the quiz, and secure your completion certificate, which you’ll need for your application.

Step 2: Permits and Certifications

  • Secure a Certificate of Occupancy permit from the D.C. Department of Buildings for your chosen location.

Step 3: Application Submission

File your license application with the necessary fees and include:

  • background check documentation
  • Certificate of Clean Hands
  • director qualifications
  • proof of insurance
  • fire safety and lead-based paint certifications
  • building use agreement (if applicable)
  • program policies.

Step 4: Initial Inspection Preparation

  • Prepare for your inspection with program policies, emergency plans, menus compliant with USDA meal patterns, appropriate materials and equipment, and complete staff files.

Step 5: Final Validation

  • A licensing specialist and supervisor will conduct a final review. Success leads to receiving your license.

Child Development Homes and Expanded Homes: Application Steps

Step 1: Orientation

  • Similar to centers, complete the orientation webinar and quiz, then print your certificate for the application.

Step 2: Home-Based Permits

  • Obtain a Home Occupancy permit from the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

Step 3: Application Process

File your license application for your daycare and child care center with the necessary fees and include:

  • background check documentation
  • Certificate of Clean Hands
  • director qualifications
  • proof of insurance
  • fire safety and lead-based paint certifications
  • building use agreement (if applicable)
  • program policies.

Step 4: Inspection Readiness

  • Ensure readiness for inspection with your emergency plan, USDA-compliant menus, suitable materials and spaces for children, and staff documentation.

Step 5: Compliance and Final Inspection

  • After addressing any deficiencies noted during the initial inspection, a final inspection will verify compliance, leading to license issuance.

Daycare in Washington D.C.

Maintaining Daycare Licensing Compliance in Washington, D.C.

Upon successfully navigating the application process for a daycare license in Washington, D.C., you’ll be issued an initial license valid for three years from the date it’s granted. To ensure ongoing compliance and quality of care, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) may conduct both announced and unannounced monitoring visits annually. These visits aim to assess various aspects of your operation, including:

  • Management and administrative practices
  • Child supervision
  • Equipment and material conditions
  • Discipline methods
  • Staff-to-child ratios
  • Indoor and outdoor environments
  • Staff qualifications and ongoing training
  • Criminal background checks compliance
  • Nutrition and menu offerings

It’s crucial to stay proactive with license renewals, submitting all necessary documentation and fees at least 90 days before your daycare and child care center license expires. Significant operational changes, such as modifications to facilities, contact information updates, or alterations in service offerings, must be communicated to OSSE 30 days in advance. Child development homes have additional notification requirements regarding changes in household composition or caregiver name changes.

Adhering to annual health and safety training for caregivers and ensuring all new staff complete the required background checks and training is essential for compliance. Establishing a strong relationship with your licensing specialist and reaching out to OSSE with any questions are key strategies for maintaining compliance with your daycare license in Washington, D.C.

To best market your daycare and utilize coming tools such as all-in-one waitlist management, payment processing, and single scan solutions for parent updates, sign up at

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