Getting Started in Family Child Care

Being a family child care provider can be a satisfying career. You can make a concrete difference in the lives of the children and parents you serve. It is also a chance to own and run your own business. Many family child care providers start their business while they still have young children of their own, and continue providing family child care long after their own children are grown. Here's a guide through some of the necessary steps in starting and running a family child care business.

Some things to think about before starting a Family Child Care Home:

  • Would you enjoy spending a lot of time caring for young children?
  • Would you enjoy communicating with parents about their children's growth and development?
  • Is your home suitable (e.g., absence of lead paint) for a family child care home?
  • Does your home have sufficient space to allow you to care for young children? (Space is needed for projects and activities, indoor and outdoor active play, meals, naptime, and a sanitary diapering area.)
  • Do you have outdoor play space (enclosed yard or fenced public park within easy walking distance)?
  • Will your family be supportive of your running a family child care program in your home?
  • If you have children of your own, will they adapt well to sharing their home with other children for a significant amount of time during the week?
  • Can you keep track of the business details of running a family child care home?
Additional Resources
  • Click here for the Family Home Child Care Licensing Rules - WAC 170-296.
  • Click here for the STARS Model Curriculum, the textbook for ECE 148 Introduction to Child Care - 20 hours STARS

Determining Need

We can help you determine the level of need in your community. You can estimate community need on your own by checking your local papers for the number of advertised openings from other child care providers. Conversely, if many parents are looking for child care, there may be a shortage of care in your area.

Community demographics, available from the town or city government, can help you estimate the need for child care. If there are many families with young children, and/or a high birth rate, you can expect that many parents may be seeking child care in the near future.

Business Issues

You will need to set up an efficient system to manage the many aspects of running a small business. Keep organized records of all your expenses and income. Maintain a separate checking account for business expenses. Save receipts, and spend time each day or week to record information. A good record-keeping system will provide the information you need for tax purposes, and will allow you to gauge your income and expenses on a regular basis.

Here are some tips for the major business items that should be set up before you open your doors for business:

Tracking Income and Expenses
  • Develop a bookkeeping system to track each family's fees due, payments made, balance outstanding, and other payments (e.g., state vouchers).
  • Parents appreciate a receipt for payments, particularly if payment is made in cash.
  • Keep your financial records in a secure place.
  • You can request help with developing a system from us or the Small Business Administration in your area.
Expected expenses:
  • Your own salary and benefits
  • Educational supplies and equipment
  • Food and kitchen supplies
  • Cleaning and diapering supplies
  • Your own professional training and development
  • Advertising costs
  • Insurance
  • Repairs and maintenance for the space you use for children
  • Other: legal fees, transportation, office supplies, etc.

Like any small business, you will have tax responsibilities. Keep good records to use at tax time. Be sure to keep all receipts, and to track all income and expenses. When in doubt, check with your tax consultant or the Internal Revenue Service for current tax regulations. Deductions include food served to children in your program; diapers; toys and equipment for children; liability and accident insurance; supplies (art, cleaning, office, etc.); field trip expenses; memberships and subscriptions to child care organizations; and professional development and training. Partial deductions include use of your home for business, and depreciation of equipment used in the child care business (cribs, swing sets, high chairs, etc.) Your child care income (less allowable expenses) will give you your net profit or loss. You must report all income, whether paid in cash, check, or other means; whether it comes from an individual or the state (if you accept vouchers, for example); and whether or not you make a profit in any given year (within certain IRS guidelines). Contact the IRS or a tax accountant to find the proper forms for filing federal, state, and social security taxes, and for the types of exemptions for which you may be eligible. As a self-employed small business owner, you will be responsible for filing quarterly federal self-employment taxes. These are usually filed as estimated tax. Failure to file and make payments on time can subject you to interest and penalties. For more information, contact us, and you may want to contact the IRS, your state's Revenue Department, or a tax consultant.


Check with your state's licensing unit and us concerning insurance requirements -- and for suggestions on a group policy or an insurance agent with experience in child care insurance.

Liability Insurance:

Most homeowners have insurance, but there are special issues related to operating a child care business in the home. Talk to an agent with child care experience. Your liability insurance should include coverage for accidents, property damage, and legal fees related to any claims. You will need liability insurance if you rent your child care space, and the policy may need to indemnify the landlord as well as yourself.

Automobile Insurance:

If you use your car to transport children, you will need to obtain additional insurance.

Contracts and Agreements

Set clear expectations about payments in the parent-provider agreement, which will make it easier to talk about fee issues later. Once the interviews and visits are completed, formally enroll the child into your program, and discuss any topics you may not have covered in earlier conversations. Give parents a copy of a signed contract. Some providers print a brief handbook with information about policies and program philosophy. Prior to enrollment, parents should complete and sign release forms for situations requiring emergency medical treatment or dispensing medication, and for authorization of individuals to pick up the child from your program. Many states require annual health checkups for children in child care, with up-to-date immunization records. Health forms should be signed by the child's pediatrician. Keep all forms on file.


Good news travels fast, but as you start up you may find that you have vacancies. Think about different methods for advertising. First, be sure you keep your provider profile up-to-date with us. When you have openings in your program, let us know immediately. When parents are seeking care, we can refer them to your program. More and more CCR&Rs are using online marketing and child care referrals, and you should be ready for these types of referrals when the time comes. Other marketing strategies:

  • Place an ad in local newspapers; make sure your ad stands out, and give concise, specific information about your program.
  • Print flyers or brochures to post on bulletin boards in places where parents are likely to go: grocery stores, children's bookstores, laundromats, libraries, workplaces, hospitals, and colleges.
  • Word-of-mouth referrals -- Encourage parents to spread the word. Stay in touch with families that have used you as a provider in the past, as they may have friends or family in need of care.
  • Online marketing -- Spread the word about your family child care home to the wider community in your area with a website and by joining child care LISTSERVs.

The appearance of your home is a very important part of marketing your services. The inside of your home should feel inviting and comfortable. Is the area you use for child care well-organized? Does it welcome children? Bulletin boards and displays of children's artwork can give a good impression. Licensing and Accreditation Many family child care providers are interested in becoming accredited providers with the  National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC). The accreditation process helps providers meet a higher standard than the minimum required for state licensing. For more information on the accreditation process, contact NAFCC:

National Association for Family Child Care

206 Sixth Avenue, Suite 900

Des Moines, IA 50309-4018

Telephone: 819-282-8192 / Fax: 515-282-9117

E-mail: [email protected]

Facilities and Equipment

The amount of space in your home that you can devote to your child care program will determine the amount and size of the furnishings and equipment that you'll need to purchase. Most providers use one or two rooms in their home as program space, and the yard outside as a play area. The main idea is to make the most of the space you have!

  • Store most of your supplies on shelves -- up high, to allow for more space on the floor for both children and activities.
  • Break your main room up into activity areas -- dramatic play, book corner, sand table area, etc.
  • Set aside a storage space where you can store large equipment, to allow for rotation of equipment.
  • Have an area that you can use for indoor, loud, active play. Many providers use their porch, den, or living room.
  • Have a designated area for nap time. It's best to have children sleep in the same place each day.
Furnishings that you'll want to purchase include:
  • A table that seats four to six children
  • Chairs, at least one per child
  • Storage shelving units
  • An easel
  • Mats for nap time
  • A book display stand
  • Sand/water table
  • Potty chairs
  • A diaper changing table

Activity areas in your main room allow the children to focus on various developmental skills. You may choose to design your room around a particular learning activity for a few days at a time. Here are the main activity areas you'll need, with some examples of materials and equipment for each:

  • Large Motor: indoor climbing structures, play tunnels, large wooden blocks, pillows
  • Art: paints, markers, stamps and ink pads, scissors, assorted papers
  • Manipulatives: connecting blocks, lacing cards, peg boards, shape boxes, beads
  • Sensory play: play dough, shaving cream, bubbles, sand and water toys
  • Blocks: wooden blocks in various unit sizes, animal and people blocks, cardboard blocks
  • Dramatic play: dress-up clothes, housekeeping/kitchen units, puppets, dolls, play foods
  • Reading: books, audiotapes, felt boards, puzzles, alphabet blocks
  • Science: magnifying lenses, magnets, binoculars, nature objects, charts
  • Outdoor play: wagons, balls, sandbox, sand toys, tricycles, climbing structure, swing set