Illinois Child Care Licensing: Your Go-To Guide

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Planning to start a child care business in the state of Illinois?

This go-to guide describes the different types of Illinois child care licenses and how to determine which one applies to your business. We’ll also show you how to find the operating standards for the child care business you’re planning to open. Finally, we’ll explain step-by-step how to navigate the licensing process to open your own home daycare or center-based care facility.

Illinois Child Care Licensing Overview

Child care licensing in Illinois is administered by the Illinois Department of Child & Family Services (DCFS). Child care licenses are awarded free of charge to center operators who complete the application process, but several licensing requirements such as immunizations, inspections and background checks, and additional training will incur costs.

If you’re considering applying for a child care license in Illinois, the most important first step is to determine which child care license type applies to your business. Illinois requires a license for five different types of child care operations:

  1. Child Welfare Agencies
  2. Foster Homes
  3. Daycare Homes
  4. Group Daycare Centers
  5. Group Daycare Homes

Each of these child care settings has its own set of rules and standards, along with its own unique licensing process in Illinois. In the following table, we describe the five types of child care operations that are eligible for licensing, how they’re defined in Illinois State Law, and where to find the operating standards for each one. 

By the end, you should be able to determine which type of child care license you’ll need for the business you’re planning to operate.

Illinois Child Care Operation/License TypeDefinition & Key CharacteristicsOperating Standards
Child Welfare AgenciesChild welfare agencies are public or private agencies that provide short-term care before placing children in foster homes, unlicensed pre-adoptive and adoptive homes, or another child care facility. This category includes all state agencies that care for children outside of their homes.Standards for child welfare agencies can be found in Part 401 of the Illinois Administrative Code.
Foster Family HomesA foster family home is a family residence that provides resident child care services for no more than 6 children (related or unrelated). Some exceptions to this capacity limit are described in the Illinois operating standards for foster family homes.Standards for family foster homes can be found in Part 402 of the Illinois Administrative Code.
Daycare HomesIn the Illinois Administrative Code, daycare homes are defined as family homes that provide care for between 3 and 12 children for less than 24 hours per day.Standards for daycare homes can be found in Part 406 of the Illinois Administrative Code.
Daycare CentersA daycare center is defined as any facility that regularly provides child care services for less than 24 hours/day to 8+ children in a family home or 3+ children in a center-based care setting. Some specific care contexts are excluded from this definition, including special activity programs (athletics, craft instruction, etc.), and child care programs operated on federal government property. Licensing standards for group daycare centers can be found in Part 407 of the Illinois Administrative Code.
Group Daycare HomesA group daycare home is defined in Illinois statutes as a family home that provides care for more than 3 and up to 16 children for less than 24 hours per day.Standards for group daycare homes can be found in Part 408 of the Illinois Administrative Code.

Getting Your Illinois Child Care License

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Illinois Child Care Licensing for Daycare Homes

Step One: Make Sure You Qualify

A daycare home is a home-based care setting that receives between three and 12 children per day. A group daycare home may receive between three and 16 children per day. In Illinois, daycare home licenses are only issued for the applicant’s family home (where the applicant and his/her family reside). 

You’ll also want to familiarize yourself with the operating standards for daycare homes in Part 406 of the Illinois administrative code. You will need to comply with these standards to qualify for your child care license and remain in good standing with the DCFS.

Step Two: Complete the Online Daycare Home Licensing Orientation

The DCFS provides an online daycare home licensing orientation to help educate potential home daycare providers about the licensing process. The online orientation is not mandatory for the application process, but completing it will help you determine your eligibility for a home daycare license and the steps you’ll need to take to meet the licensing requirements.

Step Three: Submit Application Documents

Once you’ve determined your eligibility for the daycare home license, it’s time to submit your application. 

Here’s what you’ll need to include:

  • A signed and dated application form.
  • A list of everyone who will work in the daycare home, and all residents of the home aged 13 and over.
  • Authorization forms that permit licensing authorities to conduct background checks for all applicants, staff members and household members over age 13. Background checks are provided by the DCFS free of charge.
  • A completed Child Support Certification form.
  • The names of three adults who can act as character references for the applicant.
  • A hazard protection plan for the daycare home and outdoor area.
  • A copy of the applicant’s high school diploma, general education diploma or equivalent.
  • Proof of membership in the Gateways to Opportunity Registry for the primary caregiver and his/her assistants.
  • Proof of home radon testing.
  • Proof of lead testing results and mitigation plans.

In addition to the above, you’ll also need to complete 15 hours of pre-service training covering topics like Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and Mandated Reporter Training, and your home will need to pass a fire safety inspection.

Step Four: Schedule Your Home Visit

Once your application has been approved, you’ll need to schedule a home visit from a DCFS licensing representative. 

During the visit to your home, a DCFS licensing representative will:

  • Verify your compliance with the daycare home regulations in Part 406
  • Set the capacity and determine areas of use for your child care center
  • Have you sign agreements and verifications relating to your child care operation
  • Explain record-keeping requirements for families and staff at your daycare home

Following the home visit, your DCFS representative will conduct a study to determine whether it will recommend the issuance of a child care license for your daycare home. If your application is successful, you’ll receive a home daycare license that is valid for three years.

Illinois Child Care Licensing for Daycare Centers

Step One: Make Sure You Qualify

Your child care operation is defined as a “daycare center” in Illinois if you provide care for 8+ children in a family home setting, or 3+ children in a center-based care facility. If you run a child care facility outside of a family home, and you serve more than three children, your operation likely qualifies as a daycare center.

You’ll also need to start learning about the Illinois child care standards in Part 407 of the Illinois Administrative Code.

Step Two: Contact Your Local Child Care Licensing Office

The licensing process for daycare centers in Illinois is complex. There are lots of regulatory requirements and each daycare center is unique in terms of its organizational structure, location, floor plan, size, insurance requirements, etc.

To help prospective applicants navigate this complexity, the DCFS recommends contacting your local licensing office at an early stage in the application process. You will be assigned a licensing representative who will help you navigate the application process for your daycare center. 

Visit this page for a list of Illinois DCFS Licensing Offices and their contact information.

Step Three: Submit Your Licensing Application

When you are prepared to operate your daycare center in compliance with Illinois regulations, it’s time to apply for your license.

Here’s what you’ll need to submit along with your completed application form:

  • Articles of incorporation and corporate by-laws, if your business is following a corporate organizational structure.
  • A statement of purposes and policies that complies with Part 407.250(c).
  • A list of officers, board members and committees within your business.
  • An annual operating budget for your center.
  • A staffing plan for your center, including job descriptions with qualifications.
  • A written delegation of administrative authority, in compliance with Part 407.70(b).
  • Completed and signed forms authorizing background checks on all qualifying personnel related to your daycare operation.
  • Proof of on-site radon testing.
  • Proof of lead testing results and mitigation plans.
  • Proof of membership in the Gateways to Opportunity Registry for the primary caregiver and his/her assistants.

Step Four: Obtain a 6-Month Permit & Show Compliance

If your license application is approved, you will be issued a six-month permit to operate your daycare center. During this time, your licensing representative will regularly visit your business to assess your compliance with the licensing requirements of Part 407. After six months, if you are successful, you may obtain a child care license with a validity period of three years.

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Jack Pearson

About The Author

Jack Pearson

Jack Pearson is a Product Manager at Procare Solutions. Jack focuses on building and improving upon the parent engagement and marketplace functionality in the Procare suite. Additionally, he works to translate the needs of Enterprise customers into meaningful product offerings.

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