Guidance on Operating a Licensed Child Care Program

As a result of recent legislation, effective July 1, 2021, child care licensing fees will be suspended until June 30, 2023.

Child care providers and early childhood educators play a very important role in the lives of children. Research shows high-quality early learning opportunities are key to ensuring children start school ready to succeed and have better cognitive, language, emotional and social skills as they grow older. Children who spend time in high-quality child care have lasting benefits from the experience.

The Department Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) works to ensure all child care, early learning and school-age programs are safe and healthy environments and that they enrich the lives of young children as well. As a result, Washington State requires almost all child care and early learning providers and programs to be licensed when children 0-12 are cared for outside of their home unless these exemptions apply to them under RCW 43.216.010. When exemptions do not apply to a program, prospective providers may apply to undergo the licensing process. When the licensing process is completed, DCYF Licensing staff may issue a license to a program which legally authorizes them to operate an early learning or school-age program.

Types of Licensed Programs

There are three different types of programs DCYF licenses:

  1. Family Home Early Learning Programs – this is the most common licensed program in our state. A family home licensee provides child care or education services for 12 or fewer children, ages birth through 12 years old, in the family living quarters where the licensee resides.
  2. Center Early Learning Programs – these are facilities providing regularly-schedule care for a group of children, birth through 12 years old, for periods of less than 24 hours per day.
  3. Licensed School Age Programs – these programs serve only children ages 5 years old through 12 years old who are attending kindergarten or school in a school age setting.

DCYF licenses more than 3,000 family home early learning programs, more than 1,700 center early learning programs and nearly 600 school-age programs. DCYF also licenses 5 outdoor preschool programs.

Licensing Support

Each early learning and school age program has a DCYF licensor assigned to ensure compliance with the Foundational Quality Standards for Early Learning Programs (Chapter 110-300 WAC) and the Licensed School Age Child Care Standards (Chapter 110-305 WAC).

Licensors partner with providers to maintain high-quality programs that protect and benefit children while also offering technical assistance so providers can achieve their optimal potential. Additionally, DCYF licensors observe interactions within the environment, inspect the early learning or school-age program with consistency and fairness with the ultimate end goal of ensuring the safety and well-being of children in both early learning and school age programs.