Child Care Centers

What is a Child Care Center?

Under Maryland law, a child care center is run by an individual, an agency, or an organization. It offers child care services for part or all of any day, at least twice a week. Most child care centers are regulated under COMAR 13A.16 ("Licensed Child Care Centers"). Some nursery schools and child care programs run by tax-exempt religious organizations are regulated under COMAR 13A.17 ("Letters of Compliance"). All child care facilities must meet licensure requirements before operating. 

Types of Child Care Centers

There are different types of child care programs and services. Some facilities may be licensed for more than one type:

  • Some centers provide care for infants and toddlers mostly. Others serve only preschool or school-age children. Most child care facilities provide care for a range of ages. Letter of Compliance (LOC) facilities, though, cannot provide care to children younger than two years old.  
  • Within many centers, children are grouped with others of the same age. Other centers use mixed-age groups (for example, infants or toddlers grouped with pre-schoolers).
  • Some programs offer care only to school age children -- typically before and after the school day.  These are often run by community organizations, recreation centers, churches, etc.

All child care facilities must remain within the maximum child capacity established by the OCC. This means that no more than a certain number of children may be at the facility at one time. OCC also establishes minimum staff-child ratios for all facilities to make sure that children get the care they need. 

Do you want to get a license to operate a child care center?

Watch our slideshow “How to get a license to operate a child care center” to learn about the step-by-step process of getting a license to operate a child care center in Maryland.

Contact Us

Connect with your Regional Licensing Office to learn about the licensing process and find out when the next Orientation sessions are scheduled.

Child and Adult Care Food Program

Childhood hunger is a devastating problem. Hungry kids are more likely to experience serious short- and long-term health issues. They also tend to have trouble learning and are more prone to behavioral and emotional problems.

The Child and Adult Care Food Program -- funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered in Maryland by MSDE's School and Community Nutrition Programs Branch -- provides child care food subsidies for low-income families. Child care centers that participate in the program can receive reimbursement for food costs.

Helping young children to be well fed is just another way to help them be ready for kindergarten.

You Are One of Many!

More than 2 million people in the U.S. make their living by providing care for children under the age of 5.

How to get a license to operate a child care center

  • Getting Started

    Anyone who is interested in starting a child care business in a home or center is required to take the face-to-face orientation training. Please contact the Office of Child Care Regional Licensing Office to schedule the Orientation Training. To prepare for your orientation session, you may wish to view the on-line orientation preview. This does not replace the face-to-face orientation session you are required to attend at your regional Office of Child Care. 

    To take a virtual orientation on your computer, select the link below that matches the type of child care business you would like to start.  The orientation includes videos, interactive activities and audio narration. You should expect to spend about one hour going through the orientation. But if you need to take a break during the hour, you can pause the orientation and return at a later time.  

    This session will walk you through all of the steps you need to take and it will connect you to all of the forms that you need to complete.

  • Submit a Complete Application

    At least 60 days before your proposed opening date, you must submit an application packet for a facility license or Letter of Compliance. This packet consists of the following, all of which are discussed during the orientation:

    • Notice of intent to operate a child care facility
    • OCC application form for a child care facility license or Letter of Compliance
    • Site plans
    • Floor plans with architectural details
    • Written plan of operation
    • Documentation of compliance with local zoning, building, health, and fire codes
    • Documentation of workers compensation insurance coverage
    • Fire evacuation plan
    • Menu plan for the first 4 weeks of operation
    • Written child discipline procedures.
  • Submit a Complete Application

    Additionally you must also submit these items:

    • List of all facility personnel and staff qualification documents (if applicable)
    • Permission to examine records of abuse and neglect of children and adults for information about the director, residents at the facility (if any), and company officers who may interact with children in care
    • A criminal background check form and fingerprinting cards for yourself and other adults employed in your facility is required and processed by the Maryland Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS). There is a fee payable to CJIS, to process the background check. The amount of this fee varies in different parts of the state.
  • Make Sure the Facility is Safe and Properly Equipped

    Your facility must be in good repair and meet all building, sanitary facility, lighting, and food storage/preparation/service requirements in COMAR 13A.16 or COMAR 13A.17. All areas of the facility to be used for child care must be safe and properly equipped. Here are some examples of facility safety and equipment requirements:

    • All potentially dangerous items such as cleansers, medicines, tools, and sharp implements are not accessible to children.
    • All child care areas are lead-safe.
    • Electrical wall sockets are properly capped as required by the applicable fire code.
    • A properly stocked first-aid kit is present on the premises.
    • There are adequate, appropriate, and safe indoor and outdoor activity materials and equipment.
    • If children under 12 months of age will be in care, there must be enough cribs for each child, and each crib must meet U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission standards.
  • Pass OCC, Fire Safety, and Other Required Inspections

    Once everything is in place for your business, a Regional Office licensing specialist will inspect your facility. This inspection determines if your facility and program meet child care licensing regulations. It’s also an opportunity to ask any last minute questions you may have.

    Your facility must also be inspected by the local fire authority to make sure it meets all fire codes. Inspections by the Health Department and/or other local government agencies may also be required. There are no fees for any inspections conducted by the OCC, but there may be fees for inspections by fire, health, and/or other local authorities.

  • Pass OCC, Fire Safety, and Other Required Inspections

    ComplianceAfter the requirements have been successfully met, the Regional Licensing Office issues your child care facility license or Letter of Compliance. A new child care facility is authorized to operate for a period of two years. At the end of that period, the license or Letter of Compliance may be converted to continuing (i.e., non-expiring) status. (You must submit an application for continuing, non-expiring status.) A non-expiring license may still be placed on probationary status if the center does not comply with State requirements. Continued failure may result in suspension or revocation of the license.

    Child care centers are routinely inspected at least once every 12 months on a “drop-in” status to determine if requirements are being met. 


    Annual ReviewAs soon as you receive your license or Letter of Compliance, you are ready to open your child care center for business! The following are some community resources that can help in developing your program:

    Maryland Child Care Resource Network is a statewide network of agencies that help parents find child care. These agencies also provide training and support services to child care facilities.

    The Maryland Economic Development Assistance Authority and Fund – is administered by the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development and provides special purpose loans to construct, expand, or improve child care facilities.

    LOCATE: Child Care helps families to find child care services including services for children with special needs.

    Maryland EXCELS is a quality rating and improvement system (QRIS) and recognizes the accomplishments of early childhood and school-age programs.