Wisconsin Department of Children and Families

Protecting Children, Strengthening Families, Building Communities




Wisconsin's Licensed Child Care Programs

Little girl fingerpainting.

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.

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.

There are 3 different categories of state licensed child care:

  • Licensed Family Child Care Centers provide care for up to 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. 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 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.

There is a voluntary form of regulation for those child care programs that are not required to be licensed. This type of regulation is called Certification. Counties/Tribes certify child care homes and some school-age child care programs. Certification is available for those families who wish to receive a child care subsidy, but who do not choose to use licensed care.

View a list of Wisconsin Licensed Child Care Programs.


Monitoring Guide for Wisconsin's Regulated Child Care Programs

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