Wisconsin's Licensed Child Care Programs

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The child care licensing program is a component of the services provided by Department of Children and Families (DCF). The program is accountable for the statewide licensure of Wisconsin's child care facilities, including family child care, group child care, and day camps. The purpose of the program is to promote the health, safety and welfare of children in licensed child care. The Department ensures that licensing requirements are met through ongoing inspections of child care facilities.

Under Wisconsin law, no person may provide care and supervision for four (4) or more children under the age of 7 for less than 24 hours a day unless that person obtains a license to operate a child care center from the Department.

Note: Child care regulation is based on location and the number of children, not the number of caregivers. The use of “person” in the statute does not mean that two or more persons can care for 3 children each at the same premises.

This does not include a relative or guardian of a child who provides care and supervision for the child; a public or parochial school, a person employed to come to the home of the child's parent or guardian for less than 24 hours a day; or a county, city, village, town, school district, or library that provides programs primarily intended for recreational or social purposes.

The DCF is the state agency responsible for licensing and ongoing monitoring of child care centers.

Licensed Child Care

There are 3 different categories of state licensed child care:
  • Licensed Family Child Care Centers provide care for between 4 and 8 children. This care is usually in the provider's home.
  • Licensed Group Child Care Centers provide care for 9 or more children. These centers are usually located somewhere other than a residence and may be small or large in size.
  • Licensed Day Camps are seasonal programs that provide experiences for 4 or more children 3 years of age and older. These programs usually operate in an outdoor setting.

Public School Programs 

All child care programs operated or contracted by a public school that wish to be eligible to receive Wisconsin Shares Child Care Subsidy payments on behalf of an eligible family or that will participate in Wisconsin’s quality rating and improvement system (YoungStar) must be monitored annually by DCF for compliance with a subset of the Administrative Code DCF 251 Licensing Rules for Group Child Care Centers.

Certified Child Care 

Certification is a voluntary form of regulation. Certification is available for family child care providers who are not required to be licensed, but who wish to care for fewer than 4 children under 7 years of age. Families who receive a child care subsidy may select either certified or licensed child care programs. For more information about certification in your area, contact the local certification agency or visit the Certification web page.

Find Regulated Child Care

Monitoring Guide for Wisconsin's Licensed and Public School Child Care Programs 

The Monitoring Guide for Wisconsin's Licensed and Public School Child Care Programs is a high-level overview explaining how the Bureau of Early Care Regulation (BECR) conducts on-site visits to licensed group and family child care centers, as well as day camps, to ensure that applicable licensing statute and administrative rule requirements are met.