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Child Day Care

Effective July 1, 2021, the Virginia Department of Education will be responsible for overseeing child care and early education programs, including licensing, the Child Care Subsidy Program, and resources for educators. More information about the transition is available here.

Not all child day care programs in Virginia are required to be licensed. A child day care program in Virginia refers to a regularly operating service arrangement for children where, during the absence of a parent or guardian, a person or organization has agreed to assume responsibility for the supervision, protection, and well-being of a child under the age of 13 for less than a twenty-four-hour period.

There are two types of child day care programs: Out-of-home care (Center-Based) and in-home care (Family-Based) in a private home.
These two types of care can be further broken down into:

  • Licensed
  • Unlicensed (but regulated)
  • Approved; and
  • Unlicensed and Unregistered

Licensed child day care programs are inspected at least twice per year. They have requirements for background checks, training/orientation, and health and safety.

Note: Some programs offering child day care obtain a general business license to operate from the county within which they do business; however, that license is not the same as a child day care license obtained from the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS), which holds the child day care provider accountable to the health and safety standards set forth by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Unlicensed but Regulated child day care programs vary in their requirements.

  • Voluntarily registered family day homes are required to be inspected prior to certification, and every two years thereafter, to complete background checks and meet certain health and safety standards.
  • Religiously exempt child day centers are required to complete background checks and must self-certify annually that the program is in compliance with background checks and health and safety requirements.
  • Certified preschools are operated by an accredited private school and are required to complete background checks and must self-certify prior to certification, and annually thereafter, regarding criminal record clearances on all employees, a list of staff qualifications, and health and fire inspection reports.

Religious exempt child day centers and certified preschool programs are not inspected by VDSS unless there is a complaint.

Approved child day care programs are regulated by an entity other than VDSS. These programs include certain northern Virginia localities - Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax who have the authority to approve by local ordinance certain family day homes and child day centers.

Unlicensed and unregistered child day care programs do not have any of the following requirements: background checks, training/orientation, or health and safety requirements; and only minimal Code of Virginia requirements. Unlicensed centers must meet an exemption in the Code of Virginia in § 63.2-1715. Unlicensed family day homes must follow requirements in §§ 63.2-1727 and 63.2-1704.1 of the Code. VDSS does not inspect these programs.

The chart below allows you to explore the types of child care available, how they are regulated and provide you with related forms and applications. If you need further assistance selecting child care, Child Care Aware of Virginia can help.

As you seek to make one of the most important decisions you will ever make, review the Choosing Quality Child Care brochure to gain insight in selecting child care that can promote healthy social, emotional, physical and intellectual development for your child. In addition, you are also encouraged to take time to explore the Learn About Child Day Care chart which explains the various types of child care available in Virginia and how they are regulated.

Learn About Child Day Care
  Center-Based Family-Based
Licensed Child Day Center Short-Term Child Day Center Family Day Home
Unlicensed Regulated Religiously Exempt Child Day Centers Certified Preschools Voluntary Registered Family Day System
Approved by Local Ordinance
Approved by Local Ordinance
Approved by Local Ordinance
Approved by Local Ordinance
(Fairfax County)
Unlicensed Unregistered License Exempt Centers Family Day Home