Child Care Start-up Information

Providing care to Wisconsin's children is a valuable service to families and the community. Starting a child care center is like starting any business, there are many things to think about and many steps to take. In an effort to assist those persons interested in starting a child care business; the Department of Children and Families has the following suggestions.

Veterans Professional/Occupational Licensure Fee Waiver Program

If you are a veteran, you may be eligible to have your initial child care license fee waived. Check out the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs website to see if you qualify.

Step 1:

If you are interested in starting a group child care center (9 or more children) or family child care center (4-8 children), you may obtain an inquiry packet in one of two ways:

  • Print and complete a copy of the Ordering Information - Inquiry Packets form and send it with the required fee to:
    Department of Children and Families
    2187 N. Stevens St. Ste. C
    Rhinelander, WI  54501
  • Send the required fee (see Ordering Information - Inquiry Packets) in the form of a cashiers check or money order (no personal checks will be accepted) made payable to the Department of Children and Families to the address listed above.  Please specify the type of center you are interested in starting (family or group).

Inquiry packets contain the licensing rule book, suggested procedures for starting up a program, a start-up worksheet and other information necessary to begin the start-up process.

Step 2:

Review the materials contained in the inquiry packet. The inserts entitled Procedure for Obtaining an Initial License to Operate a Family Child Care Center and Procedure for Obtaining an Initial License to Operate a Group Child Care Center list a series of items that should be addressed.  Developing a business plan will help you decide what needs to be done next and can also be used to help secure financing for your project through a lending institution. The United States Small Business Administration has information available on starting a business and may be able to provide resources and information that will assist you in your efforts to start a child care program.

Step 3:

Recently, the caregiver background check law was revised to prohibit licensure when a license applicant, household member, or employee has a conviction for certain serious crimes.  If an applicant for a license or a current household member has a conviction for a crime that results in a permanent bar, the department is prohibited from issuing a license to operate a child care center.  Other convictions may result in a bar for 5 years after the completion of any prison time, probation, parole or extended supervision.  Other convictions or findings by a governmental agency may result in a bar until the person has had rehabilitation review approval.  The Department has developed document titled Potential Barriers to Obtaining a Child Care License, which is a short summary of some of the the things that are checked prior to the issuance of a license.  There is more information on the caregiver background check process and answers to some frequently asked questions on our Background Check website.

Step 4:

Because we know how overwhelming and difficult it can be to navigate the process of opening a child care business, the Department contracts with the Supporting Families Together Association (SFTA) to provide free technical assistance to individuals, organizations and agencies interested in opening a child care center. Included in the inquiry packet (see Step 1 above) is a Child Care Business Start-up worksheet that you complete and submit to SFTA. Upon receipt of your worksheet, the SFTA will assign a Child Care Technical Consultant (TC) to guide you through the start-up process.

Step 5:

A SFTA TC will contact you to determine your needs and provide necessary materials and assistance as you begin the start-up process. Your SFTA TC will review a checklist of all the items that must be in place before a license can be issued and will answer any questions you may have about the licensing process.

Step 6:

After completing the start-up process with SFTA, you will be given an application for a child care center license. Not more than 14 days before you submit your application materials to the regional office, you will need to verify that all the applicable licensing rules on the Initial Licensing Study Checklist have been met. Submit the completed license application, the Initial Licensing Study Checklist and any other materials indicated on the last page of the checklist to the appropriate regional licensing office serving the county in which care is to be provided.

Step 7:

After the regional licensing office receives your application materials, they will review them to assure that all necessary materials have been submitted and complete a caregiver background check on the licensee and any adult household members. The caregiver background check may include an investigation into information received on any convictions, substantiations or other offenses that may impact a person's ability to care for children. Once the caregiver background check and any subsequent investigation has been completed, a licensing specialist will be assigned to your program. The licensing specialist will contact you to schedule an initial licensing study visit and complete the licensing process. If you are not in compliance with all the items on the checklist at the time of the visit by the licensing specialist, the issuance of your license may be delayed.

Step 8:

Consider participating in YoungStar, Wisconsin’s Quality Rating and Improvement System for child care. If you are interested in caring for children who receive Wisconsin Shares subsidy payments, you must participate in YoungStar.  YoungStar is a program of the Department of Children and Families created to improve the quality of child care for Wisconsin children. YoungStar:

  • Evaluates and rates the quality of care given by child care providers
  • Helps parents choose the best child care for their kids
  • Supports providers with tools and training to deliver high-quality early care
  • Sets a consistent standard for child care quality

In your inquiry packet (see Step 1), some information on YoungStar is provided. You can apply to participate in YoungStar at the YoungStar for Providers webpage. Your Technical Consultant from SFTA can answer questions about YoungStar too.  Additionally, information about YoungStar is available at the YoungStar website.   If you choose not to care for children who receive Wisconsin Shares, participation in YoungStar is optional.  For more information about how Wisconsin Shares and YoungStar work together, visit the YoungStar and Wisconsin Shares webpage.  If you participate in YoungStar, after you are awarded a star rating, your rating will be posted on the Child Care Finder website.


Last Revised:  June 20, 2014

The Department of Children and Families, protecting children, strengthening families, building communities.