Obtaining a Children's Residential Program or Child Placing Agency License

Providing care to Wisconsin's children is a valuable service to families and the community. There are many things to think about and many steps to take. In an effort to assist those persons interested in starting a licensed program, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) has the following suggestions.

Step 1:  You need to decide what type of license that you are interested in. DCF licenses the following programs:

Group Home:  "Group Home" means a facility operated by person licensed by the Department pursuant to s. 48.625, Stats. to provide 24-hour care for 5 to 8 residents.

Residential Care Center:  "Residential care center for children and youth" or "center" or "RCC" means a residential facility required to be licensed as a child welfare agency under s. 48.60, Stats. that provides treatment and custodial services for children, youth and young adults ages 18, 19 or 20.

Shelter Care:  "Shelter Care" means a short-term, non-secure residential care and physical custody of children pending court action. "Short-term" means a maximum of 30 days for each episode, with extension for up to another 30 days as provided in s. DCF 59.05(3)(b), except that for a hold-over room "short-term" means not longer than 24 hours or, if the placement is made on a Friday or on the weekend, not longer than over the weekend until the following Monday.

Child Placing Agency:  "Child Placing agency" means a child welfare agency licensed to place children in licensed family foster homes and licensed group homes.

Step 2:

Residential Care Centers only:  Complete the Needs Determination Application under DCF 52.61 before an application is submitted to the Child Welfare Licensing Section.

Group Homes only:  Complete the Needs Determination Application under DCF 57.485 before an application may be requested and submitted to the Child Welfare Licensing Section.

  • Shelter Care and Child Placing Agencies go to Step 3.  

Step 3:  An initial application packet needs to be requested from the Department of Children and Families. Initial Application packets contain the licensing rule book and other information necessary to begin the start-up process.

Print and complete a copy of the Ordering Information - Initial Application Packets form and send it with the required fee to:

Child Welfare Licensing Section
Department of Children and Families
201 E Washington Ave - Rm E200
Madison, WI 53703

Step 4:  Review the materials contained in the initial application packet.

  • Please read each document very carefully in the packet.

Step 5:  Complete the application.

  • Please review the application very carefully.
  • Submit all the required documents with your application.  This includes the licensing checklist. Please review this checklist to ensure that your agency meets all of the licensing rules.
  • For GH's and RCC's, send your Needs Determination approval letter with the application
  • Submit the appropriate fee with your application to Child Welfare Licensing Section.

Step 6:  Once the Child Welfare Licensing Section has received your application materials and reviewed them to ensure that all necessary items have been submitted, a licensing specialist will be assigned to your program.  The licensing specialist will contact you to schedule an initial licensing study visit and complete the licensing process.  If you are not in compliance with all the items on the checklist at the time of the visit by the licensing specialist, the issuance of your license may be delayed.


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The Department of Children and Families, protecting children, strengthening families, building communities.