Starting a Licensed Child Care


Providing care to Wisconsin's children is a valuable service to families and the community. Starting a child care center is like starting any business; there are many steps to take. In an effort to assist persons interested in starting a child care business, the Department of Children and Families has the following suggestions for starting a Licensed Child Care Program.

For more information about how the sale/transition of child care business from one owner to another impacts Wisconsin Shares, visit the Ensuring Continuity web page.

For more information about starting a Certified Child Care Program contact your local certification agency.


Veterans Professional Occupational Licensure Fee Waiver Program

If you are a veteran, you may be eligible to have your initial child care license fee waived. Check out the Wisconsin Department of Veteran Affairs website to see if you qualify.


Step 1: Determine if there are barriers to licensure

Delinquent Taxes or Unemployment Insurance Contributions

Section 48.715(7) of the Wisconsin Statutes requires the department to deny an application for a child care license if the applicant is liable for delinquent taxes or for delinquent unemployment insurance contributions. If you have been certified delinquent for taxes, contact the Wisconsin Department of Revenue to address the issue prior to applying for a child care license. If you have been certified delinquent for unemployment insurance contributions, contact the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development to address the issue prior to applying for a child care license.

Child Care Background Check Law

The child care background check law prohibits licensure when a license applicant, household member, or employee has a conviction or pending charges for certain serious crimes or a substantiated finding of abuse or neglect. Review the Department’s publication titled Potential Barriers to Obtaining a Child Care License (Spanish) and the accompanying Barred Offenses - Regulated Child Care for information about what types of crimes and offenses committed by an applicant, household member, or other individual subject to the background check requirements could impact your ability to obtain a child care license. See the department’s Child Care Background Checks page for more information on the child care background check process and answers to some frequently asked questions.

To find out if you or any adult who resides at your proposed child care center has anything in their record that could be a barrier to licensure, you may want to obtain completed Background Check Request (Spanish / Hmong) forms for yourself and each adult household resident, and then check the records for each person at:

Prospective applicants for licensure or prospective household members and employees may also request a background check for themselves to establish their eligibility to reside and work in child care using the iChildCarePortal.

Step 2: Determine the type of child care program you want to open

Family Child Care - DCF 250

A child care program that provides care and supervision for less than 24 hours a day for at least 4 and not more than 8 children who are not related to the provider.

Group Child Care - DCF 251

A child care program that provides care and supervision for less than 24 hours a day for 9 or more children who are not related to the provider.

Day Camps for Children - DCF 252

A child care program that provides care and supervision to 4 or more children age 3 and older in a seasonal program oriented to the out-of-doors for less than 24 hours a day.

If you cannot decide which type would be the best for you, please contact your local Supporting Families Together Association Child Care Resource & Referral agency.

Step 3: Complete / enroll in the required entry-level training

See the Department’s Internet page Child Care Regulation Information for Providers and click on the Training tab for more information.

Step 4: Create a business plan

You may need to determine the need for the program you are considering. Involve other agencies and members of your community. Use the information you gather to decide what kind of services you will offer and what age groups you plan to serve. Developing a business plan will help you decide what needs to be done next, and can also be used to help secure financing for your project through a lending institution. To create a successful budget for the costs of operating a program be sure to include things such as start-up costs, materials and equipment, maintenance, utilities, supplies, insurance, taxes, continuing education, etc. Those looking to start a group child care center will need to pre-determine how your business will be organized (e.g., Individual / Sole provider, LLC, Corporation, etc.), and obtain a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN) from the Internal Revenue Service if required.

Some examples of where to look for assistance are:

Step 5: Ensure your proposed location meets all requirements for zoning regulations, neighborhood covenants, and building codes

Contact your local zoning authority or neighborhood association to determine if there are local zoning ordinances or neighborhood covenants that might affect the location of your proposed center.

If the proposed center will not be used as a residence by at least one person or will be in a building that is not a one- or two-family dwelling, you will need to document that the building complies with all applicable Wisconsin Commercial Building Codes by obtaining a report of inspection completed by a commercial building inspector from a city or by a Wisconsin registered architect or engineer registered in accordance with Wisconsin Administrative Rules A-E for Architects or A-E4 for Engineers.

DHS Choose Safe Places Program

Step 6: Order an inquiry packet

Print and complete a copy of the Ordering Information – Inquiry Packets form. Make sure that you select the correct program type (family, group, or camp). The required fee must be in the form of a cashier’s check or money order made payable to the Department of Children and Families.  No personal checks will be accepted. No refunds will be issued for incorrect orders. Send the completed form along with the required fee to:

Department of Children and Families
2187 N Stevens St. Ste. C
Rhinelander, WI  54501

Inquiry packets contain the licensing rule book, procedures for starting up a program, a start-up worksheet, and other information necessary to begin the start-up process. The materials will be sent via the United States Postal Service, and will arrive in a 9.5 x 12.5 inch envelope.

Step 7: Review the materials contained in the inquiry packet

Follow the step-by-step instructions provided in the "Procedure for Obtaining an Initial License" document enclosed in the inquiry packet, and familiarize yourself with the licensing rule book.

Step 8: Review and Understand Background Check Requirements

The Child Care Development and Block Grant Act of 2014 requires the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF) to conduct background checks on all child care license applicants, household members, and employees. At the time of the initial background check and then every five years thereafter, an FBI fingerprint-based background check will be conducted on persons subject to the background check requirement, regardless of whether they have had a fingerprint check done in the past. Child care applicants will need to submit the background check request to DCF and receive a final eligibility determination from DCF before an individual may be licensed.

Please refer to Changes to the Background Check Process for more information. The DCF Background Check Checklist - New Providers provides step-by-step guidance on how to complete background check requirements. We recommend that you use our Background Check Web Tool to help you determine who will need a background check.

Step 9: Consider participating in Wisconsin Shares and YoungStar

Wisconsin Shares is Wisconsin’s child care subsidy program that helps families pay for child care. Learn more about Wisconsin Shares on the department’s website.

YoungStar is a program of the Department of Children and Families created to improve the quality of child care for Wisconsin children. Information about YoungStar is available on the department’s website.

Once you are licensed, you can apply to participate in Wisconsin Shares and YoungStar

Step 10: Complete and submit the Child Care Business Startup Worksheet

For Group and Family Child Care ONLY: Because we know how overwhelming and difficult it can be to navigate the process of opening a child care business, DCF contracts with the Supporting Families Together Association (SFTA) to provide free technical assistance to individuals, organizations and agencies interested in opening a child care center. Included in the inquiry packet is a Child Care Business Start-up worksheet that you complete and submit to SFTA. Upon receipt of your worksheet, the SFTA will assign a Child Care Technical Consultant (TC) to guide you through the start-up process. 

Step 11: Complete the prelicensing technical assistance with Supporting Families Together Association

For Group and Family Child Care ONLY: The SFTA Technical Consultant (TC) will contact you to determine your needs and provide necessary materials and assistance as you begin the start-up process. Your TC will review a checklist of all the items that must be in place before a license can be issued and will answer any questions you may have about the licensing process.

Step 12: Submit your application materials to the regional licensing office serving your area

After completing the start-up process with SFTA, you will be given an application for a child care center license. Not more than 30 days before you submit your application materials to the regional office, you will need to verify that all the applicable licensing rules on the Initial Licensing Study Checklist have been met. Submit the completed license application, the Initial Licensing Study Checklist and any other materials indicated on the last page of the checklist to the appropriate regional licensing office serving your child care location.

Step 13: Accepting Wisconsin Shares Child Care Subsidy at your center

Wisconsin child care providers who want to accept families using Wisconsin Shares Child Care Subsidy, please read through the required steps outlined on the Providers Who Want to Accept Wisconsin Shares Child Care Subsidies web page.