Pre-Licensing for Child Care Programs: The What, the Why, & a Program Visit in Photos

Bart Everson, May 12. 2010

Bart Everson, May 12, 2010

Does this picture make you smile? Perhaps you are one of the many out there who dream of starting their own child care program. Or, maybe it is something that appeals to you, but you have never considered it until now. Picture yourself in a safe, child-friendly space, children clustered around you with bright, eager faces, ready to learn. And you, are ready to teach them.

Pre-Licensing is your first step to getting there.

What is Pre-Licensing?
is a FREE Supporting Families Together Association (SFTA) service for potential child care providers interested in becoming licensed, funded by the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF). SFTA assigns a Pre-Licensing Specialist- either from SFTA or from one of our member CCR&Rs- to prepare family and group early care and education professionals for the official Licensing process. This is done through technical assistance on how to build appropriate program environments, policies, procedures, staffing strategies, and safety measures. This process is completed through a policy review with a Pre-Licensing Specialist and a site visit to the program space. A Pre-Licensing site visit can take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, along with additional e-mail and phone call follow-ups.You can purchase extra technical assistance as well, if you choose.

What does it mean to be a Licensed Group or Family Care vs. Certified ?
A family child care license is required by the state of Wisconsin for a provider to care for four or more children under 7 years old who are not related to them. A family child care license allows a provider to care for no more than eight children. A group child care license is required by the state of Wisconsin to care for nine or more children, for less than 24 hours a day for compensation (monetary or otherwise). Learn more about Licensing.

As a Certified child care program, providers can: accept Wisconsin Shares subsidized children, participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and receive parent referrals from Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies. Learn about the program requirements for Certification on the Department of Children and Families website.

Why Pre-Licensing before Licensing?
There is a lot of preparation and detail involved in starting a successful, legal, child care program. Peruse the Certification and Licensing processes for just a few minutes and that becomes clear pretty quickly. Pre-Licensing Specialists are trained in the Licensing regulations and checklist, not to mention Pre-Licensing guidance primes providers to consider safety and other program issues that can help prepare them to pursue a quality rating with YoungStar, Wisconsin’s child care quality rating and improvement program. Licensing may deny your licensing application if you have had a license or certification to operate a child care center revoked or denied within the past 2 years (Wisconsin Administrative Code DCF 251). Pre-Licensing is the base you need to start building your knowledge and your business before you ever start the Licensing process. It is your chance to ensure you are prepared to succeed in Licensing.

Check out these photos from a recent Pre-Licensing visit.
*It is important to note that what is in these photos are only a few of the things that a Pre-Licensing Specialist would look for and discuss with a provider and that the center pictured was a particularly well-prepared program. Pre-Licensing Specialists will point out the good elements of your program, but it is their job to get you ready for Licensing, so they will also show you what must be added or changed.


Your Pre-Licensing Specialist’s role is to help you succeed, and they do their best to make their time with you count. Make sure you do the same! Don’t make any big decisions regarding your business- such as signing a lease or buying a building- before you talk it over with your Pre-Licensing Specialist. No one wants to end up trying to sell a building they cannot safely use for their business before business has even started. Read all of the information that your Pre-Licensing Specialist gives you thoroughly, and ask lots of questions. It will save you time later on, and will better prepare you for the site visit and for the Licensing process.

How can you get started with Pre-Licensing?
Learn more about Pre-Licensing and order a Pre-Licensing Inquiry Packet here – just click on “How to Get Started with Licensed Care.” Or, give SFTA a call at 1 (888) 713. KIDS and we are happy to help you get on the right path to starting a licensed child care program.

THANK YOU to Sarah Hall, owner of the Goddard School in Kenosha, WI for allowing SFTA to photograph her program at the Pre-Licensing visit, and SFTA Licensing Preparation Manager Anna Ramirez.