Can a Childcare Provider Be Exempt from Having a License?

Learn how unlicensed providers differ from their counterparts

Teacher and girls in art class
Teacher and girls in art class. Getty Images/Image Source

When seeking childcare for infants and toddlers, some parents encounter providers without a license and wonder if it's okay to send their little ones to such facilities. But many parents are perfectly comfortable sending their children to unlicensed childcare providers. To find out if such a provider is right for you and how these providers differ from their licensed counterparts, consult this review of licensing practices.


Why Childcare Centers Receive Licenses

Before examining whether unlicensed childcare centers are appropriate for your family, learn why licenses are issued in the first place. 

Most childcare providers are required to be licensed or regulated by the state.  Moreover, childcare providers in many cases seek volunteer national accreditation to receive a higher designation of quality care. 

Childcare licensing helps to regulate the quality of care through health and safety inspections, standards for staffing and child-to-provider ratios as well as training requirements and background checks. But not all childcare requires a license. The examples that follow demonstrate when providers are exempt from licensing.

When Caregivers Don't Need Licenses

Caregivers are exempt from childcare licensing requirements when parents go out on their own and hire an individual to come into their home to care for children.

They're also exempt when a family member such as a grandparent, aunt, uncle or cousin provides care for children.

Providers of drop-in childcare, typically offered by certain businesses, health clubs, churches, recreational center programs or childcare programs (before or after school care) run by school districts don't need licenses.

The same typically applies to caregivers who oversee children from a single family.

Do Your Homework

As with any childcare situation, check with your state to learn specific laws related to provider regulations or licensing requirements. You should also ask about specific operating standards, discipline approaches and program specifications and complaint policies and procedures. Also be sure to determine your comfort level before selecting an unlicensed childcare provider.

Wrapping Up

If the idea of placing your infant, preschooler or grade school-aged child in the hands of an unlicensed childcare provider makes you squeamish, listen to your gut. As a parent, your responsibility is first and foremost to protect your children. But thoroughly vet the reasons why you don't want an unlicensed childcare provider. Is there something about a particular provider that makes your nervous, or would any unlicensed provider make you feel uncomfortable? If the former is the case, continue your search for the right provider.

If the latter is the case, limit your search of childcare providers to licensed facilities only.

To make your decision easier, consider talking to other parents who've used licensed and unlicensed providers and see if their experiences shed any light. The important thing is that you trust the provider you choose.

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