Maroon question mark iconFrequently Asked Questions

Regulated Child Care and YoungStar Public Search Website

The following is a list of frequently asked questions and answers regarding the information contained in the Regulated Child Care and YoungStar Public Search website. Click on a question to view its answer.

Why does the Department of Children and Families (DCF) publish the compliance history of regulated child care programs on a public search website?

The information included in the Regulated Child Care and YoungStar Public Search is provided as a public service to Wisconsin consumers seeking regulated child care. In an effort to assist consumers in finding the best possible child care arrangement for their family, the website provides consumers with information on the type and location of regulated child care centers, YoungStar ratings, and the results of monitoring visits conducted by the regulating agency (e.g., DCF’s Bureau of Early Care Regulation (BECR) or certification agencies such as counties/tribes). It also includes information provided by the child care centers describing how they are addressing violations cited at their centers.

Is the Department of Children and Families authorized to publish a child care center's compliance history on the internet?

The regulatory information and regulatory history of child care centers are public record and must be accessible to the public, parents, and guardians of children, in accordance with the following requirements:

  • Under Wis. Stat. § 48.656, a parent, guardian or legal custodian of a prospective recipient of care from a licensed child care center has the right to information about the child care center that would aid the parent, guardian, or legal custodian in assessing the quality of care and supervision provided by the center. 
  • Wis. Stat. § 48.657 requires DCF to make available on the DCF child care center search website a specific description of any violation and the steps taken by the child care center to correct the violation.
  • The federal Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) requires that states make available to consumers an easily accessible website with the results of monitoring inspections for at least 3 years for each regulated child care program.

What is licensed child care?

Under Wisconsin law, Wis. Stat. 48.65(1), 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 of Children and Families. A license is not required for 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.

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 3 years of age and older. These programs usually operate in an outdoor setting.

What is certified child care?

Certification is a voluntary form of regulation in Wisconsin for those child care programs that are not required to be licensed.  DCF 202 establishes standards for the certification of persons who provide care for 1 to 3 children or those who are not otherwise required to be licensed. DCF contracts certification functions to local counties and tribes; DCF Bureau of Early Care Regulation (BECR) administers certification in Milwaukee County.

What is the difference between a regular and a probationary license?

A probationary child care license is issued to an applicant who has not been previously issued a regular license, has changed location, or has changed corporate status. A probationary license is issued when the applicant meets certain minimum requirements for probationary licensure, as specified in statute and administrative rule, and the probationary license fee has been paid. The probationary license is valid for up to six months, but it may be renewed for one additional six-month period. Before a probationary license expires, DCF conducts inspections of the center to ensure it meets the minimum requirements for regular licensure.

A regular child care license is issued to a licensee after completion of a six-month probationary period. It is issued if, during the initial probationary period, the licensee demonstrates to DCF that they meet the minimum requirements for licensure as specified in statute and administrative rule. A regular license is non-expiring but is reviewed every two years. The regular license is valid until revoked, suspended, or surrendered.

What is the difference between regular and provisional certification?

There are two categories or levels of family child care certification. Level 1 (regular) is issued to operators who have demonstrated compliance with all certification standards including entry level training required to meet Level I certification. Level II (provisional) is issued to child care operators who have demonstrated compliance with certification standards, but have not yet met the standards for entry-level training. Provisional certification is limited to 6 months maximum.

The website refers to a date of initial license. What does that date mean?

This is the date that the first probationary license was issued to the child care licensee at that location.  

What is YoungStar?

YoungStar is a program of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) created to improve the quality of child care for Wisconsin children. YoungStar evaluates the quality of care given by regulated child care providers and rates them from 1 to 5 stars, with 5 stars being the highest rating. A provider's star rating is based on:

  • Education Qualifications and Training
  • Learning Environment and Curriculum
  • Professional and Business Practices
  • Child Health and Well-Being Practices

You can find more information on YoungStar at on the YoungStar home page.

Why do some centers have a high YoungStar rating but a lot of violations?

When the licensing specialist or certifier notes violations of the licensing or certification rules, a notice of the violations is issued to the center.  Regulated programs are expected to develop and implement an acceptable correction plan to address any and all violations cited by the staff of the Department of Children and Family and certifying agencies. If the violations continue or reappear later in a licensed program, the licensing specialist may move to progressive enforcement action including Orders to Correct and Forfeitures. These enforcement actions are indicated on the YoungStar compliance history for the program but do not result in a program dropping in the star rating. 

It is rare to find a regulated center that has never been cited for a rule violation and not all violations represent the same threat to the health and safety of children in care. Many factors will influence the actions that must be taken to achieve compliance, including the center’s record on correcting violations, the seriousness of the violations, the size of the center, the length of time the center has been operating, and the qualifications of the staff. 

Programs are considered to be out of regulatory compliance for YoungStar when they have had their license or certification revoked or denied or they have been suspended from participating in the Wisconsin Shares program. This may happen if the Department of Children and Families or the certifying agency determines that a program has failed to correct previous violations or the center has put the health and safety of children in care at risk.

Each child care center on the public website has identification numbers. What is the provider number?  What is the location number? What is the facility number?

These numbers are unique identification numbers assigned to the child care center by the Department of Children and Families for identification in the child care database. None of these is a social security number or tax identification number.  

What is meant by "capacity?"

Capacity is the maximum number of children that may be cared for at any one time according to the child care license or certification requirements. Capacity for a family child care license may not exceed eight children, but it may be less. Capacity for a group child care license will be nine children or more. Capacity for certified family child care may not exceed 3 children under the age of 7 and may not exceed a maximum group size of 6, including the provider’s own children under age 7.

  • Capacity for certified family child care may not exceed 3 children under the age of 7 and may not exceed a maximum group size of 6, including the provider's own children under age 7.
  • Capacity for a licensed family child center care may not exceed 8 children, but it may be fewer.
  • Capacity for a licensed group child care center will be 9 children or more.

What is a violation?

A violation, also referred to as a noncompliance, is a formal, written statement that the licensee or certified operator is not in compliance with a specific administrative rule.  

What is meant by "rule summary?"

A rule summary is a brief statement identifying the subject area of an administrative rule requirement for a licensed program. 

How is regulatory history established?

Regulated child care programs agree to comply with administrative rules intended to protect children in care. Licensing specialists from the DCF and certification workers from local certifying agencies make periodic, announced and unannounced on-site visits to regulated child care programs, during which time the regulator observes the operation of the center and notes any areas in which the center is out of compliance with selected administrative rules. Observation of any violation of administrative rule is documented at the visit.Through this process, the center is alerted to existing violations and is required to take prompt, appropriate corrective action to safeguard children in care.

Regulatory history is also established through complaint investigations conducted by DCF staff and certification workers. Since licensing specialists and certification workers can’t visit and observe each center’s operations daily, information from parents and other members of the public regarding what is happening at a center is critical to ensuring children in care are safe. 

Anyone can report a complaint to the DCF or local certification agency concerning a DCF-regulated child care program. When alerted to potential violations of administrative rule, licensing specialists or certification staff conduct a thorough investigation. If the complaint is substantiated, the violations are documented, and the center is expected to take prompt corrective action. 

Also included in a licensed center's regulatory history are enforcement actions. Enforcement actions, authorized in licensing statute, are sanctions or penalties that may be taken by the DCF to address violations of administrative rules of licensed programs. By using enforcement actions, such as orders and forfeitures, the DCF can compel licensees to correct violations and bring the licensed program into compliance with minimum regulatory requirements. A licensee can dispute an enforcement action taken by the DCF by appealing the action through the State Division of Hearings and Appeals.  

How does the Department of Children and Families or the certifying agency ensure that violations are corrected?

At the end of a monitoring visit to a center, the regulator discusses his/her observations with the licensee or certified operator at an exit interview and a report of the findings is issued during or immediately following the visit. This report is either a Noncompliance Statement and Correction Plan that enumerates the observed violations, or a Compliance Statement that shows that no violations were noted during the visit. Licensed centers must post the report next to the child care license in an area of the center that is readily visible to parents and the public.

Regulated centers are expected to develop and implement an acceptable correction plan to address all violations. The regulator verifies that the violations are corrected within a given timeframe, and, if the violations remain uncorrected, the regulator may take further corrective action with the center, such as an enforcement action.

The most recent Noncompliance Statement and Correction Plan or the Compliance Statement is posted on the Regulated Child Care and YoungStar Public Search website immediately following an on-site visit. The licensee’s correction plan is also posted on the Regulated Child Care and YoungStar Public Search website as soon as possible.

What is published under "Regulation Details?"

Regulation Details includes the center's record of administrative rule violations and enforcement actions issued by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) or certification agency during the previous 3 years. Violations are documented during ongoing routine monitoring visits, during visits made to a center in response to a complaint allegation, or based on self-reports of violations reported by the center. When violations are serious or remain uncorrected, an enforcement action may be issued to the regulated program.

Regulation Details includes the dates that one or more violations were issued by the regulating agency. If a visit was made to the center and no violations were observed, these dates will also be listed. The Details column includes links to more detailed information such as the administrative rule violation number that was cited and a brief summary of the violation. The Results column includes links to the Noncompliance Statement and Correction Plan detailing the center’s plan to address the violation.

If an enforcement action has been initiated with a licensed center during the previous 3 years, a display titled Enforcement Actions will appear in the Regulation Details section. (If no enforcement action has been initiated in the previous 3 years, the Regulation Details section will only display monitoring and violations detail.) Information regarding an enforcement action includes date of enforcement, type of enforcement, whether the licensee appealed the violation, if “yes” to Appeal, the decision, and the violations that led to the enforcement action.  

Information is not posted on this public website until monitoring and complaint investigation results have been finalized. A licensed center is afforded appeal rights for enforcement actions only.  

Does regulatory history posted on the public website include information on all center visits made by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) or the certifying agency?

Nearly all visits made to a child care center in the previous three years by DCF or the certifying agency are included in the center's regulatory history. Visits may result in a Noncompliance Statement and Correction Plan that lists rule violations or a Compliance Statement that indicates that no rule violations were observed.

However, if the visit was for the purpose of providing technical assistance or to conduct a complaint investigation that is not complete, a statement may not be issued for the visit. Visits made to a center by YoungStar staff are not reflected in the regulatory history section of the public search website.

For additional information about the center's regulatory history, you are encouraged to contact the center directly and/or the regional licensing office or certifying agency.

What is a correction plan?  How can I see the correction plan?

Licensed and certified centers are expected to develop and implement an acceptable plan to correct all violations cited on the Noncompliance Statement and Correction Plan. (Licensed centers are required to post the plan in a visible location near the license at the licensed child care center.) The regulator verifies that the violations are corrected within a given timeframe, and, if the violations remain uncorrected, the regulator may take further corrective action. With a licensed center, this may involve an enforcement action.

Visitors to the public child care finder website can review the child care center’s correction plan by linking to the plan in the Results column. 

What is an enforcement action?

The Department of Children and Families (DCF) is authorized under Wisconsin statute and administrative rule to initiate enforcement actions to address serious and repeated violations of licensing requirements. By using an enforcement action, the DCF can compel licensed centers to correct violations and to maintain compliance with minimum regulatory requirements. Enforcement actions are issued when previous efforts to gain compliance with administrative rule, such as issuing the Noncompliance Statement and Correction Plan (CFS294), have failed. Sometimes a direct forfeiture is assessed immediately for an identified noncompliance not associated with previously issued orders and in the most severe circumstances where the health, safety, and welfare of children in care is threatened or when harm to a child has occurred.

Enforcement actions include an order to correct violations, forfeiture and direct forfeiture, temporary suspension of the license, and in the most serious circumstances, summary suspension of a license, denial of a license, and license revocation.

Licensees may appeal an enforcement action with the Department of Administration, Division of Hearings and Appeals. If the Division of Hearings and Appeals upholds the enforcement action, the licensee may appeal that decision to Circuit Court.

Information regarding enforcement actions issued to certified programs is not available on the public search website but can be accessed by contacting the certification agency. Certifiers do not issue orders or forfeitures to certified child care programs.

What does it mean when an enforcement action ends in a stipulated agreement?

A stipulated agreement is a legal contractual agreement between the Department of Children and Families and a licensee of a child care center that sets forth specific and unique terms and conditions for granting or continuing licensure. Such an agreement is used to settle an enforcement action following an appeal, or to establish the conditions under which an applicant or licensee is permitted to hold a license.  

What happens when a center keeps violating the rules?

The licensing staff of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) follows a systematic process to gain a center's compliance with administrative rules by moving from citing a violation on the Noncompliance Statement and Correction Plan (CFS-294) to progressively more serious actions. Most commonly, the need for more serious licensing action, such as an enforcement action, can be averted by early identification of violations and/or addressing ongoing problems that do not immediately rise to the level of an enforcement action. However, when violations remain uncorrected, even after the licensee has received a warning about the situation, licensing staff will initiate more serious corrective action.

Actions may progress from citing the violation on a Noncompliance Statement and Correction Plan, to alerting the licensee to the seriousness of the uncorrected violations through a warning letter, to imposing an order to correct the violation, to issuing a forfeiture or temporarily suspending a license. Ultimately, when these progressive actions fail, or in the most serious circumstances, the DCF will revoke the license.  

Certifying agencies work with the certified operator to gain the center’s compliance with administrative rule. However, if the certified operator fails to come into compliance, the certifier may issue a warning letter and/or suspend or revoke a provider’s certification.

What happens in a complaint investigation?

A complaint is an allegation of a violation of administrative rule related to licensed or certified child care centers. Complaints alert the Department of Children and Families (DCF) or the certifying agency to possible problems at facilities. Complaints against licensed centers may be submitted to the DCF by telephone, fax, letter, electronic mail or personal interview and may come from a variety of sources, such as parents and other family members, neighbors, center staff, social service and law enforcement personnel, other community members, and anonymous sources.

Complaints against certified centers are submitted to the certification agency.

When a complaint alleges violation of administrative rule at a center, the regulating agency conducts an investigation. This investigation may include an unannounced visit to the program to observe conditions, interviews with the licensee or certified operator and current or former staff members, and a check of center records. Based on a careful analysis of the information gathered during the investigation, the regulator determines whether the complaint is substantiated (meaning a rule violation is cited) or unsubstantiated (meaning a rule violation is not issued).

There is no Regulation Details for the child care center I selected.  What does that mean?

It is possible that the regulatory history for this center is included under the center's previous license. If a licensed center changes location and moves to a location in a different region, the center is treated like a new facility and the regulatory history of that child care center begins on the date that the new license for the new location is issued. 

It may also be that this is a new center that was just issued a probationary license and has not yet had a monitoring visit. 

Why can't I find a certain provider on this website?

The public search website provides information on regulated child care providers only. It does not provide information on unregulated child care providers. Public-school license-exempt programs are included on the website but contain only a limited amount of information. More information on the difference between licensed, certified, and unregulated providers can be found on the Child Care Regulation home page.

How current is the information on the website?

The Department of Children and Families updates the website daily to ensure that provider names, locations, and other compliance information is as current and accurate as possible.  

Why doesn't the Child Care Search display positive observations made by the regulators?

The role of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) is to protect the health, safety, and welfare of Wisconsin's children in care through periodic monitoring of child care centers. DCF licensing specialists and certifying agencies conduct regular inspections of regulated centers to ensure compliance with administrative rule requirements, the minimal standards established through statutory requirements. The expectation is that regulated centers always meet these minimum standards. The website shows the compliance information collected at these monitoring visits.  

YoungStar ratings and how those ratings are determined, however, are described on the website and provide information on the quality of care being provided to children. The YoungStar rating is based on an assessment of the program’s education qualifications and training, learning environment and curriculum, professional and business practices, and child health and well-being practices.

DCF recognizes that many child care centers go well beyond the minimum standards required to maintain licensure or certification. We encourage child care centers to publicize their many extra efforts to provide quality early care in a safe and nurturing environment. Persons looking for child care are encouraged to visit the centers under consideration to see firsthand what each center has to offer.

Do child care staff need training to work with children?

Yes, all child care providers need to have training in early childhood education, shaken baby syndrome (SBS)  / Abusive Had Trauma (AHT) prevention, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) risk reduction procedures, infant/child cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and for licensed centers, automated electronic defibrillator (AED) training. Child care teachers in group child care centers need additional early childhood training and group child care center directors and administrators and family child care providers need training in early childhood and in the business-related aspects of operating a business. Group child care teachers and center directors also need to have experience in a licensed center before beginning to work in a program. 

To find out more information about training requirements for child care providers, visit the department's Child Care Regulation Information for Providers webpage and see the "Training" dropdown menu.

What rule violations are considered the most serious?

Every administrative rule is important to the quality of the program, but some administrative rules are more directly related to ensuring that children are safe in child care settings. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) has identified those rule requirements that, when violated, are likely to pose the most serious threat to the health, safety, and welfare of children in care.

When citing a rule violation, the licensing specialist pays particular attention to whether the rule requirement is included on the serious violation list. Depending on the number of serious violations cited on a single monitoring visit and whether the serious violations are also repeat violations, the licensing specialist may be required to initiate enforcement action.

Review the list of serious violations in licensed family and group child care on the serious violation page.

What should I consider when reviewing a center's regulatory history?

In reviewing the regulatory history of a center, keep in mind that the presence of violations and enforcement actions in the center's regulatory history is not the whole story. It is rare to find a regulated center that has never been cited for a rule violation. Many factors can influence a regulatory history, including the size of the center, the length of time the center has been operating, and the qualifications of the staff. Consider some of the following questions when you review a center's regulatory history:

  1. What is the YoungStar rating? Learn more about YoungStar.
  2. What is the nature of the violation? Was the violation related to safety, record keeping, staff-to-child ratios?  Every rule is important to the quality of the program, but some rules are more directly related to the safety of children.
  3. Is the center being repeatedly cited for the same violation? What is the center doing to correct the violation?  Is the center making timely efforts to correct the violation?
  4. Is there an extensive history of multiple violations, or are the violations infrequent? 
  5. What enforcement actions (for licensed programs only) have been taken and for what reasons? How has the licensed center responded to these actions?
  6. What do other parents say about the center?
  7. What is the center’s plan of correction? What can they tell you about the violations and their plan to correct them?

Your Guide to Choosing Child Care was developed by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to help you make the very important decision of locating a child care arrangement that is right for you. We encourage you to consider this guidance, in combination with the information available through YoungStar, when considering the center that best meets the needs of your child and your family. 

Talk to the centers you are considering and ask a lot of questions. You may also contact the local Child Care Resource and Referral office to seek their assistance.

Who can help me locate and evaluate a child care center?

Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies can provide you with resources to select a quality child care placement for your child including the following:

  • A customized list of licensed and certified programs including group child care centers, school-age child care, family child care, and day camps
  • Guides and checklists to help you have a productive meeting when you visit a child care center you are considering
  • Key questions to consider asking about the child care provider, the child care center, and the program
  • Information on family resources, special events, support groups and parenting classes

For a link to community-based child care resource and referral services near you, please visit Supporting Families Together Association and click on the county where you live or work.

You can also contact the regulated center directly to discuss your questions and concerns. When you visit the center, review the results of the most recent monitoring visit and ask questions. You may also call the regional licensing office or certification agency to find out more about a center's regulatory history.