Starting and Running a Center Program


Running a child care center is first and foremost running a very busy small business. But it's much more than that -- it's making a commitment to be a vital part of the holistic development of other families' children. The successful child care manager wears many hats: early childhood educator, business manager, fiscal administrator, safety and health officer, and building architect, among others. We understand that you'll have your hands full with each of these big jobs. Here's a guide through some of the necessary steps in starting and running a center.

  • Click here for the Child Care Center Licensing Guidebook from the Department of Early Learning.
  • Click here for the Child Care Center Licensing Rules - WAC 170-295
  • Click here for a copy of the STARS Model Curriculum, the textbook for ECE 148 Introduction to Child Care - 20-hour STARS.

Understanding the Community

Determining Need

The first step in starting a new center is learning if there is need in the community for child care. First, find out what types of child care are currently available in your community, by talking with us, as well as town or city government offices, or the state licensing office. Informally, you can check your local Yellow Pages, parents' newspapers, and other publications for advertisements that will give you an idea of how many centers are already in business.

When gathering this information, you should focus on:
  • Total number of centers in the community, and ages of children being offered care
  • Hours offered by other centers, whether early morning or evening care is offered, and availability of part-time or flexible care
  • Whether centers have waiting lists or a lot of vacancies
  • Location of available centers
  • Community Demographics

You can get a good overview of your community from talking with us, by looking at recent census data, and/or by surveying local parents. Demographic information can help you estimate the number of working families with young children in the community, where they live, and their likely income and child care tuition payments.

Options in a Competitive Environment

If you discover that other centers have many vacancies -- or, conversely, are experiencing difficulty in hiring qualified staff -- you may then revise your business plan to address the competitive environment.

Some options to differentiate your program include:
  • Providing care in a different community with higher demand and lower supply (where centers have a low vacancy rate)
  • Providing non-traditional hours of care not offered by other centers (e.g., evening/weekend care, or overnight care)
  • Providing higher quality care and paying higher wages than other centers (e.g., hiring well-educated, experienced staff)
  • Offering a type of program or service not previously offered in the community (e.g., a Montessori or school-age care program, or mildly-ill child care)

Business Issues

Every center needs to pay close attention to the business of child care, even if the center is run as a nonprofit. Good management is essential to maintaining the center's viability over time and continuing to offer quality care.  We have many resources available to providers.  Schedule an onsite consultation to help you establish your business procedures.

Facilities and Equipment

One of your primary concerns in starting a program will be determining the location, size, and type of space you need. Things to think about when looking for a space include child care needs of the local community; zoning, Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, fire and health department regulations, parking needs, and licensing requirements.  Contact us for more information.