North Carolina Child Care Licensing: Your Go-To Guide

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If you’re planning to provide child care services for your community in North Carolina, you will need to obtain a child care license. 

In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about North Carolina’s child care license system. We’ll explain how to know whether you need a license, the child care license types offered in North Carolina, and how to navigate the child care licensing process step-by-step.

Let’s get started!

North Carolina Child Care Licensing Overview

North Carolina’s child care licensing process is administered by the Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE), under the purview of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS). The DCDEE implements quality standards for child care and works to expand access to child care services across the state.

If you’re preparing to apply for a child care license, you’ll need to determine which type of child care license is right for your business. That’s easy to do in NC because there are just three types of child care licenses available:

  1. Child Care Center (CCC) License
  2. Center Located in Residence (CLIR) License
  3. Family Child Care Home (FCCH) License

The characteristics of your child care operation will determine which type of child care license you’ll need to operate legally in NC. In the table below, we highlight the main differences between these three types of child care licenses. We’ll also show you where to find the regulatory requirements and operating standards that apply to each type of child care operation.

Child Care OperationDefinitionChild Care License TypeOperating Standards
Child Care Center (CCC)A Child Care Center is a center-based care facility where more than 3 children under 13 years of age receive regular care (at least once a week for more than 4 hours) from caregivers who are not related to the children in care.CCC LicenseRegulatory requirements for child care centers can be found in Title 10A of the North Carolina Administrative Code (NCAC), under Chapter 09 – Child Care Rules
Center Located in Residence (CLIR)A Center Located in Residence is a child care center located in a family home and licensed to provide care for 3-12 children (as permitted by space/capacity limits). CLIR LicenseA child care operation with a CLIR license must comply with most of the same rules as a licensed child care center.
Key differences between a CCC and a CLIR are outlined below.
Family Child Care Home (FCCH)A Family Child Care Home is a child care operation located in a family residence where between 3 and 8 children receive care from caregivers who are not related to the children in care.FCCH LicenseRegulatory requirements for family child care homes in NC can be found under 10A NCAC 09 .1702 – .1731.

Although CCC and CLIR operations follow similar rules, there are a few differences that child care operators should know about. 

Unlike a CCC, a CLIR is operated in a family residence. Additionally, a CLIR is not required to have a designated administrator or to have defined activity areas. Finally, CLIR programs are evaluated using the Family Child Care Environment Rating Scale (FCCERS), while center-based facilities are evaluated using other scales.

Do I Need a Child Care License in North Carolina?

In general, anyone providing regular child care services (more than once a week, and more than four hours per day) for three or more children requires a child care license in North Carolina.

There are some exemption scenarios that apply to this rule, including:

  • Public schools.
  • Recreational programs that operate for three or fewer months per year.
  • Drop-in or short-term child care providers that supervise kids while parents are on the premises (at malls, fitness facilities, resort hotels, etc.).
  • Vacation bible schools.
  • Cooperative child care arrangements between parents.
  • Specialized activity clubs or instructional programs (dance, athletics, music lessons, etc.)

In North Carolina, it is a felony offense to willfully run a child care operation without a license. As a child care operator, it is crucial that you understand whether your program requires a license to comply with the law.

Getting Your North Carolina Child Care License

Applying for Your North Carolina CCC or CLIR License

Step One: Read about NC Child Care Laws for CCCs/CLIRs

As a CCC or CLIR license holder in NC, you’ll need to comply with all of the local laws, rules and regulations for child care providers.

In the table above, we provided a link to Chapter 09 of the NC administrative code, where you can find all the legal requirements for child care centers operating in the state.

Another great source of information is the booklet “Child Care Centers – Basic Information for Potential Providers,” published by the NCDHHS. This 29-page document outlines all of the most important rules and regulations that you’ll need to follow as a child care provider in North Carolina. 

Step Two: Register & Attend a Pre-Licensing Workshop

In North Carolina, potential applicants for a child care license must attend a pre-licensing workshop as a prerequisite.

There is a fee of $135 to attend a pre-licensing workshop, and advance registration is required, as attendance is limited. You can access the schedule for upcoming workshops and complete your registration on the DCDEE website.

The two-day pre-licensing workshop covers a range of topics, including:

  • How to choose a site and building for your child care center
  • How your child care consultant will work with you during the application process
  • How to provide high-quality care to young children
  • How to prepare your child care center for opening

Step Three: Connect with a Child Care Consultant

Child care consultants work for the DCDEE. Their role is to help potential child care providers navigate the child care licensing process and successfully comply with North Carolina’s child care laws and regulations. 

As you work through the application process, your child care consultant will be your primary point of contact at the DCDEE. They will conduct pre-licensing visits to review rules and regulations with you, help you through the application process, and ensure that your child care operation meets all regulatory requirements.

When you attend a pre-licensing workshop, you will receive a list of lead child care consultants and the counties they serve

Step Four: Submit Your Child Care License Application

After attending a pre-licensing workshop, the next step is to complete your child care license application and send it to the child care consultant that services your county. 

You can download the child care license application form on the NCDHHS website.

You’ll also need to include the following documents with your application form:

  • A criminal background check qualification letter
  • Reports of building, fire and sanitation inspections
  • A sketch of your center’s floor plan, including measurements of all rooms that will be used for child care. Your floor plan should include ceiling heights, as well as the locations of bathrooms, doors and required exits. 
  • A certificate of completion from the pre-licensing workshop
  • A completed administrator pre-service requirements form

Step Five: Complete Pre-Licensing Visits

Once you have submitted your application to your child care consultant, you’ll be able to schedule your first pre-licensing visit. Over the course of several visits, your child care consultant will:

  • Review with you the rules and regulations for your child care center.
  • Inspect your child care space, materials and equipment for suitability and compliance.
  • Ensure that you have obtained approval for your center from building, fire and sanitation inspectors.
  • Conduct a final inspection of your facility.

Step Six: Receive Your CCC or CLIR License

Once your child care consultant is satisfied that your center meets all regulatory requirements, you will be issued a temporary six-month license to operate your child care center. You will be required to pay an annual license fee based on the capacity of your center.

Applying for Your North Carolina FCCH License

Step One: Register & Attend a FCCH Pre-Licensing Workshop

North Carolina offers a separate and distinct pre-licensing workshops for potential child care providers who want to operate an FCCH. 

Before you apply for an FCCH license, you must complete this workshop. The workshop lasts for approximately five hours and there is a fee of $75.00.

You can access the latest version of the FCCH pre-licensing workshop schedule on the DCDEE website. When you attend the pre-licensing workshop, you’ll receive contact information for a local child care consultant who will act as your primary contact at the DCDEE throughout the application process.

Step Two: Satisfy Pre-Licensing Requirements

Before you can apply for a child care license, you’ll need to:

  • Contact your local zoning and planning office to verify that your home meets zoning requirements for a FCCH.
  • Contact your Homeowners Association (HOA), if applicable, to obtain permission to operate your FCCH. 
  • Successfully pass a child care criminal background check.

Step Three: Understand NC Child Care Rules for FCCHs

As a licensed FCCH, you’ll need to comply with all of the rules and regulations for family child care homes set forth in the NC administrative code.

Prior to submitting your application, we recommend reviewing Chapter 09 – Child Care Rules under Title 10A of the NCAC.

Step Four: Submit Your Application Package

If you’ve completed a pre-licensing workshop, satisfied relevant pre-licensing requirements and reviewed the child care rules, it’s time to submit your application package.

You can download the application package for family child care homes on the DCDEE website.

In this package, you’ll find a copy of the Application – Facility Profile form, which you’ll need to complete and submit to your child care consultant. You’ll also find links to additional information and resources, along with a list of additional documents that must be submitted with your license application.

Step Five: Schedule Your Pre-Licensing Consultation Visit & Assessment

After submitting your application, you will be able to schedule a pre-licensing visit with your child care consultant. During this visit, the consultant will:

  • Review regulatory requirements for your child care operation
  • Supply you with any additional forms needed to supplement your application
  • Help you complete your FCCH application
  • Inspect indoor and outdoor areas of your home for compliance with child care rules
  • Inform you of any compliance issues that should be corrected before you will be awarded a license

Once your pre-licensing visit is complete and you have met all requirements, you will contact the lead child care consultant in your area for an initial assessment of your child care operation.

Step Six: Receive Your FCCH License

If your initial assessment shows that you have successfully complied with all requirements for your center, you will be awarded a temporary child care license, valid for six months. 

You can upgrade your child care license by staying in compliance with North Carolina laws, hiring staff with strong educational backgrounds, and maintaining high quality standards in your child care program. 

Launch Your NC Child Care Operation with Procare Solutions

Just received your child care license? It’s time to launch your child care business with Procare Solutions. Procare eases the burden of managing your child care operation with easy-to-use, innovative solutions that keep you connected and in control of your center.

With Procare’s child care management app, you’ll be able to:

Ready to see how Procare makes it easy to manage your child care operation?

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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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