Wisconsin Child Care Regulation Information

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Anyone providing care and supervision for four (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, step-parent, 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 10 days or less duration in any 3-month period, including day camps, vacation bible school, and holiday child care programs
  • Emergency situations
  • Care and supervision for no more than 3 hours a day while the parent is employed on the premises

Regulations set standards for adequate child care, but they cannot guarantee quality care. That is why parent involvement is so crucial.

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.

Your Guide to Regulated Child Care - Your Summary of the Child Care Rules

Your Guide to Regulated Child Care - Your Summary of the Child Care Rules. This two-page PDF describes the different types of regulated child care programs in Wisconsin, including licensed family child care centers, licensed group child care centers, licensed day camps for children, certified family child care, and certified school-age programs

Child Care Licensing

The child care licensing program is a component of the services provided by Department of Children and Families. 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 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.

Child Care Certification

DCF 202 establishes standards for the certification of persons who provide child care for 1 to 3 children or who are not otherwise required to be licensed as a child care center under s. 48.65, Stats. DCF contracts certification functions to local counties and tribes. DCF Bureau of Early Care Regulation (BECR) administers certification in Milwaukee County.

Public School Programs

Beginning in fall 2016, 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 for compliance with a subset of the Administrative Code DCF 251 Licensing Rules for Group Child Care Centers.

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.

Child Care Exception Requests

An exception to the administrative rule is a condition of licensure. A licensee may initiate an exception by submitting a request to their licensing specialist. The licensing specialist reviews the request according to regional procedures. If certain criteria are met, the licensing specialist obtains approval from their supervisor and grants the exception. See the Child Care Exception Request Decision Tree for an overview of the process.

Child Care Background Checks

  • As of October 1, 2018, the federal Child Care Development and Block Grant requires the State of Wisconsin to conduct background checks and make eligibility determinations for individuals associated with a child care program. Under the new requirements, all child care licensees, certified operators, household members, caregivers, and non-caregiver employees must undergo a DCF fingerprint-based background check every five years to be eligible to operate, work at, or reside in a child care center. For more information on how the background check requirements will affect your program, please review the background check information at the Child Care Background Check home page.