Babysitters Licenses: What are they and how to get one

Babysitter getting her license

Babysitter licenses are officially called child care licenses and are a type of permit issued by government agencies. They are usually required by professional child care providers, such as centers or in-home family child care to operate legally. Child care licenses ensure that child care is operated in a safe and healthy environment, by qualified people, and meets the developmental needs of the children. The child care license regulations are different in each state and territory.

Do babysitters need licenses?

No, babysitters working occasionally in private homes for one family do not need child care licenses.  Babysitters may choose to complete a babysitting certification course through a reputable training organization. A babysitter certificate is not required by law. Carers who are working as child care providers in their own home, caring for numbers of children from different families (i.e., in home care) usually require a child care license. 

What is child care licensing?

Child care licensing is a formal process administered by state and territory governments in the US that regulates child care providers (e.g., childcare centers and in home child care providers), to ensure that they meet minimum standards of health and safety. The legislation differs from state to state in the US. Most states require child care providers to be licensed if they are paid to care for a number of children in a center or home. For example in California if you are providing care to non-relative children from more than one family in your home, then you must be licensed.

What types of child care providers need to be licensed?

It depends on your state legislation, but most child care providers include operators such as

  • Child day care centers
  • In-home child care operators
  • Licensed before or after school programs
  • Licensed school age programs.

Who issues child care licenses?

Every state has an agency responsible for issuing licenses for child care providers. The agency in your state will be responsible for licensing, assessing and monitoring child care providers. Agencies usually conduct regular checks to ensure standards are being met. 

Why are child care licenses important?

The licenses ensure that children are safe and well cared for when they are in child care. The regulations and policies help promote key competences of the carers such as the knowledge, skills, abilities, behaviors and other characteristics required to perform well. This supports children’s safety and development in child care. The regulations ensure that the building and facilities are safe. The standards reduce risks in child care such as injuries, spread of disease, fire and safety hazards, developmental impairment. 

What are the minimum requirements needed for a licensed childcare provider?

The requirements vary depending on what state the provider operates in. The requirements are designed to ensure that child care providers are offering quality care in a safe environment. Regulations usually cover details relating to child-to-carer ratios, staff qualifications and ongoing professional development training. Most states require

  • A criminal background check for all staff
  • Qualifications for staff
  • Ongoing training for all staff, including CPR and first aid.
  • Emergency planning
  • Health, safety and food handling permits
  • Ongoing monitoring to continue to meet standards. 

How do parents find out if child care providers are licensed?

When searching online parents can use search terms to find ‘licensed child care centers’ in their area. There are a number of specialist sites that aggregate lists of licensed operators. In person, parents can ask the center to show them the child care license.

How do child care licenses help parents?

Licenses help parents assess and choose the right child care provider, as it assures that minimum health and safety standards are being met. It does not guarantee the quality of the staff and programs, but it does confirm that the center meets minimum standards. Parents will need to tour and interview the carers to find out more details about the quality of the staff, facilities and programs.

What questions should parents ask about the child care license?

Parents should ask the child care provider to view their child care license. Parents should check the dates to ensure the license is current. They should ask for evidence of the last inspection review by the state, whether there were any violations and what actions were taken. Parents can also check whether there have been any ‘substantiated complaints’. This means complaints that have been made and were found to be valid. If so, what actions were taken to address the issues. Parents can also ask questions that are specific to their state regulations, such as child to staff ratio, carer qualifications or emergency plans for managing food or allergic reactions. Parents should ask more detailed questions that relate to their child and needs. 

What sort of carer qualifications and training are covered under child care licenses?

The child care license includes requirements about child carer qualifications and ongoing training. This is because early childhood education research shows that the quality of care is significantly influenced the carer’s age, education, experience and skills. 

Every state has different requirements for child care licenses but most will cover

  • Prerequisites for child carers to work in a licensed setting
  • Ongoing training expected for child care providers.

Federal and state governments set out requirements for ongoing training in child care that covers important areas such as

  • Child development
  • First Aid and CPR for infants and children
  • Safe sleep practices (e.g., nap times)
  • Indoor and outdoor safety, including protecting children from hazards, traffic, bodies of water (e.g, crossing roads, playing near water features)
  • Safely transporting children (e.g., in cars, buses, prams)
  • Medication administration, with parent consent
  • Prevention and response to food and allergy emergencies
  • Prevention and response to emergencies caused by natural disasters and other events
  • Prevention and control of infectious disease spread
  • Handling, storage and disposal of hazardous materials (e.g., paints, batteries)
  • Prevention of child abuse and neglect, including shaken baby syndrome and head trauma
  • Recognition and reporting of child abuse and neglect

Do carers in licensed child care settings require background checks?

Yes, federal law mandates that all carers working with children in child care settings must pass federal and state criminal background checks. This includes all adults who live or work in a family care home (in home care). In a child care center this includes all staff working with the children (teachers, care givers, directors) including kitchen staff and administration staff. This also includes any adults who visit the center such as therapists or specialist teachers for art, dance or music. 

What is the usual child to staff ratio in licensed child care settings?

The federal government requires all states to set regulations stating the ratio of carers to children and the total group sizes in child care.  

The staff:child ratio is the number of children that 1 carer is responsible for. This is to ensure that children have an appropriate amount of care for their age and stage of development.

The group size is the total number of children who can be safely in one setting or area (e.g., a play room or an outdoor play area) regardless of how many carers are present. This is to prevent overcrowding and ensure appropriate care and attention is provided to children. 

The ratio of carer to child varies based on

  • Your state regulations
  • The ages of the children being cared for - younger babies have a higher ratio of carers to children
  • The type of environment. e.g., child care center or in-home care.

An example of recommended ratios of staff to child is in the table below.

Carer to Child Ratio for Child Care Settings

Age of Child Staff:Child Ratio in a Child Care Center Staff:Child Ratio in Family Home Care*
Infants under 12 months old 1 adult to no more than 3 infants 1 adult to no more than 2 infants
Toddlers 13 - 35 months old 1 adult to no more than 4 toddlers 1 adult to no more than 2 toddlers. (or 3 toddlers in the age range 24-35 months).
Preschoolers 3 years old 1 adult to no more than 7 preschoolers 1 adult to no more than 7 preschoolers
Preschoolers 4 years old 1 adult to no more than 8 preschoolers 1 adult to no more than 8 preschoolers
Preschoolers 5 years old 1 adult to no more than 8 preschoolers 1 adult to no more than 8 preschoolers
School age 6-8 years old 1 adult to no more than 10 school age children 1 adult to no more than 10 school age children
Mixed age group with infants and toddlers Usually centers have separate rooms for different age brackets. 1 adult to no more than 6 children. Plus there should be no more than 2 of these children aged under 24 months.

*Family home carers should include their own children in the total count of children being cared for.

Are any carers exempt from child care licensing?

In a few states there are some child care providers who are exempt from licensing. This occurs when programs are overseen by another agency, instead of the state government. For example this may include some

  • Early Childhood or School Age Programs run and regulated by public schools.
  • Military child care programs are also regulated by the Department of Defense. 
  • Faith-based or part-day programs like drop in care.

Some in-home carers may be exempt from licensing if

  • They are related to the children they care for. E.g. aunt
  • They care for a small number of children that the state doesn’t consider requiring formal regulations
  • They are providing care on an occasional basis, for only a few hours.

If parents visit a center or in-home carer that is not licensed it’s recommended that they find out whether it’s exempt from licensing, or operating illegally. 

How do I find out more about child care licensing in my state?

There’s a helpful site for the National Database of Child Care Licensing Regulations where you can search by state.

What is the cost of a child care license?

The cost varies depending on your location and the type of child care operator. For example in Minnesota it costs $50/year for Family Child Care Licensing and $500/year for a Licensed Child Care Center. In Washington it costs $30/year for Family Home Child Care and $125/year for Child Care Centers (up to the first 12 children, plus $12/year per child in addition to this). 

Is a driver’s license part of a child care license?

No, a driver's license is not required for a child care license. A driver's license is a useful credential for child care providers such as babysitters and carers so they can transport children safely to and from activities. But it is a completely separate skill and is not connected to the child care license.  

Is a babysitter certificate part of a child care license?

No, a babysitter certification is not part of a child care license. Babysitter certificates are offered by organizations that run classes to teach babysitting skills. 

Many training organizations around the US offer training and certifications for babysitting knowledge and skills. These classes cover important babysitting skills that will ensure you’re the best babysitter!

There’s no single babysitter certificate. You can choose from a range of certificates that suit you. For example the Red Cross runs a ‘Babysitter Basics’ Course and a ‘Babysitter Training Course’. The classes are commonly either online or in person. 

What topics are covered in babysitting certification classes?

The babysitter certificate classes are an excellent way to learn important skills relating to

  • Babysitting preparation
  • Babysitting basic care for infants
  • First Aid and CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) / AED (Automated External Defibrillator) training
  • Child behavior
  • Age appropriate activities
  • Emergency protocols
  • Professional skills
  • Leadership
  • Building your babysitting business

We hope this provides you with a comprehensive guide to child care licenses. We hope we’ve been able to clarify the differences between babysitter licenses, babysitter certifications and child care licenses.