Your Guide to regulated Child Care


Anyone providing care and supervision for 4 or more children under age 7 years for less than 24 hours a day must be licensed by the Department of Children and Families.

Exceptions to this rule are:

  • A parent, grandparent, great-grandparent, stepparent, brother, sister, first cousin, nephew, niece, uncle, or aunt of a child, whether by blood,marriage, or legal adoption, who provides care and supervision for the child.
  • Public and parochial schools.
  • Care provided in the home of the child’s parent for less than 24 hours per day.
  • Counties, cities, towns, school districts, and libraries that provide programs for children primarily intended for social or recreational purposes.
  • A program that operates not more than 4 hours per week.
  • Group lessons to develop a talent or skill such as dance or music, social group meetings and activities, group athletics.
  • A program where the parents are on the premises and are engaged in shopping, recreation, or other non-work activities.
  • Seasonal programs of ten days or less duration in any 3-month period, including day camps, vacation bible school, and holiday child careprograms.
  • Emergency situations.
  • Care and supervision for no more than 3 hours a day while the parent is employed on the premises.
  • A program provided where the child of a recipient of temporary assistance to needy families, or Wisconsin works, is involved in orientation,enrollment or initial assessment or where parents are provided training or counseling.
    Regulations set standards for adequate child care, but they cannot guarantee quality care. That is why parent involvement is so crucial.


Licensed Family Child Care Centers

A program regulated under DCF 250 where a person provides care and supervision for less than 24 hours per day to between 4 and 8 children under 7 years of age. Age groups may be mixed according to the following combinations. Additional allowed school-aged children in care for 3 or fewer hours per day are shown in parentheses.

Licensed Group Child Care Centers

A program regulated under DCF 251 where a person for less than 24 hours per day provides care and supervision for 9 or more children.

Licensed Day Camps for Children

A program regulated under DCF 252 that provides care and supervision to 4 or more children, 3 years of age and older, in a seasonal program oriented to the out-of-doors for periods less than 24 hours per day.

Certified Family Child Care

A program regulated under DCF 202 where a person provides care and supervision for less than 24 hours per day for no more than 3 children under age 7 with a maximum group size of 6, including the provider’s own children under age 7.


First, talk to your child’s caregiver and try to work out your differences. If those attempts fail, and you feel the caregiver is violating a state licensing regulation, contact the appropriate regional office. See or call 1-800-362- 7353 for licensing contact information. If you feel the caregiver is violating certification rules, contact the appropriate certifying agency. See or call 1-800-362-7353 for certification contact information


That question has no easy, quick answer. Evaluating child care may seem an overwhelming task, especially if you are new to child care services. This checklist can help. For a thorough evaluation, go through the entire checklist section by section, or, if you prefer, focus on the parts that seem most important to you. YoungStar is a program of the Department of Children and Families created to improve the quality of child care for Wisconsin children.


Do they genuinely seem to enjoy working with young children?
Do they seem to be warm, loving people?
Do they talk with you openly and straightforwardly about their policies?
What training and experience do they have? Do they receive regular, ongoing job- related training?
Do they seem to get along well with each other?

Caregiver / child interaction

Do they get down to eye level when talking to or listening to the children?
Do they encourage the children to express their feelings verbally?
Do they encourage children to work out negative feelings without hurting others?
Do they respect individual differences among the children?
Do the child guidance measures focus on what the child should do rather than what the child should not do?
Do they set reasonable limits and allow children to make choices when appropriate? Do they provide guidance with words, tone of voice, and actions that show respect for children? Note: See licensing and certification rules for prohibited actions.
Do they show patience by letting children do things for themselves and exert their independence?
Do the children seem comfortable when talking to the caregivers?
Do the children seem happily occupied and relaxed?
Does the ratio of children to caregivers meet state requirements?

Physical environment

Are the play areas clean and large enough so children can move freely and safely? Is the playground safe and supervised by an adult?
Is play equipment sturdy and in good repair?
Are games, toys, etc. stored where the children can get to them?

Are wall displays placed at child’s eye level?
Are unused electrical sockets covered with safety caps?
Are cleaning fluids, medications, poisons, sharp tools, matches, etc. stored away from children?
Is the area free of other hazards: peeling paint, exposed electrical wires, uncovered hot water pipes, unprotected hot radiators or heaters?
Are fire safety and tornado drills practiced?
Are emergency telephone numbers posted by the telephones?
Is there adequate heat, ventilation, and lighting?
Are bathrooms clean and sanitary?
Are step stools in the bathrooms to help young children reach toilets and sinks?

Program / Activities

Is there a regular daily schedule? Is it organized without being rigid? Are activities geared for different age and developmental levels?
Are there indoor and outdoor activities?
Is time provided for physical activity and quiet play?

Is there a nap or rest period?
Are there structured activities as well as free play when children can choose what to do? Are there opportunities for different types of interactions—large group play, small group play, alone time?
Are there materials for different types of play—drama, music, creative movement, language skills, gross and fine motor skills, art projects, sand and water play?
Are there living plants for children to observe and care for?
Are there pets in areas of the center accessible to children? Have pets been appropriately vaccinated? Are pets tolerant of children? Is close supervision provided? Are the children taken out into the community for activities—parks, libraries, museums, field trips? Is there adequate supervision?


Are vehicles used to transport children insured, and does the center’s policy address insurance coverage for transportation?
Are vehicles in safe operating condition?
Are appropriate individual child car safety seats and booster seats used?
Does the center have a procedure to ensure that no child is left unattended in a vehicle?

Do vehicles with a seating capacity of 6 or more passengers in addition to the driver have a vehicle alarm installed to ensure no child is left unattended in a vehicle?

General things to look for

Is the license / certificate posted?
Are visits by the parents, whether announced or unannounced, welcome at any time? Are there opportunities for parent / caregiver communication?
Is this the kind of place you would enjoy spending your day?
Are the results of the most recent licensing visit posted?
Do staff and children wash their hands before meals and after toileting or diapering? Are meals and snacks well balanced and wholesome?
Is the food preparation area clean and sanitary?
Are menus posted in licensed programs?

The Department of Children and Families is an equal opportunity employer and service provider. If you have a disability and need to access services, receive information in an alternate format, or need information translated to another language, please contact the Bureau of Early Care Regulation at or (608) 421-7550. Individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind or speech disabled can use the free Wisconsin Relay Service (WRS) – 711 to contact the department.

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