Certification, Licensing and Accreditation: Standards That Govern Child Care

Female service member holding her infant, standing next to another woman in a child care center

Choosing child care is an important decision. You want to know that you're leaving your children with a provider or program you can count on. Luckily, there are governing standards that can help you narrow down your choices. Quality child care typically involves a certification, a license or program accreditation, and understanding these terms will help you confidently choose the right care setting for your child.

Here's a quick breakdown to help you understand certifications, licenses and accreditation:

What you need to know about state licensing of child care facilities

When beginning your search for a quality child care facility, keep these basic state-licensing facts in mind:

  • Licensing laws differ from state to state.
  • Enforcement of the laws may vary, but typically involves regular inspections of the child care facilities.
  • Don't be afraid to request to see documentation of a facility's license and ask about specific requirements.

What you need to know about Department of Defense child care certifications

When you leave your children in a Department of Defense child care program, you know the program has a strong oversight component. Here's why:

  • The certification process is used as an alternative to state licensing.
  • All child care options on military installations are inspected annually on an unannounced basis and are certified by the Department of Defense.
  • Programs are also inspected annually by subject matter experts in fire, health and safety.

The standards for a Department of Defense certified child care program are the same worldwide and address the following areas:

  • Staff/child ratios and group sizes
  • Health
  • Safety
  • Fire safety
  • Parental involvement
  • Staff qualifications and training requirements
  • Developmentally-appropriate practices

Child care may be provided in one of the following types of Department of Defense-certified child care programs on military installations:

  • Child development centers
  • Family child care homes
  • School-age care programs

Regardless of which option you choose, you can take comfort in knowing the care your children receive meets the Department of Defense certification requirements.

What you need to know about national accreditation


more about factors to consider when choosing a child care program.

Programs that undergo the accreditation process must measure up to the standards of quality established by national child care organizations. Accreditation means a commitment to providing high-quality services, including:

  • Developmentally-appropriate curriculum for children
  • Quality interactions among children and staff
  • A healthy and safe environment for children
  • A sufficient number of adults per children in group sizes appropriate for children's ages
  • Strong communication between staff and families

It's important to note that accreditation does not take the place of state licensing. It is an additional programmatic review by an outside agency.

Studies have shown that, in comparison to non-accredited programs, accredited programs have:

  • More child-initiated activities
  • Higher staff morale
  • Better-defined goals
  • A more culturally-diverse curriculum

The accreditation process for civilian homes and centers is voluntary; however, the 1996 Defense Authorization Act, which codified the Military Child Care Act of 1989, required all eligible military centers to meet standards necessary for accreditation. In general, approximately 10 percent of civilian child care centers are accredited, but 97 percent of military installation centers have earned accreditation.


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