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Divisions > Early Childhood Development > Licensing
Opening a Child Care Center

This section answers the following questions:

What is a "child care center"? 

How is a license to operate obtained?

What is the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)?


Under Maryland law, a child care center is a facility operated by an individual, agency, or organization that offers child care services for part or all of the day, or on a 24-hour basis on a regular schedule, at least twice a week. Most child care centers are regulated by the Maryland State Department of Education's Office of Child Care (OCC) under COMAR 13A.16 ("Licensed Child Care Centers")Some nursery schools and child care programs operated by tax-exempt religious organizations are eligible to be regulated by OCC under COMAR 13A.17 ("Letters of Compliance"). A letter of compliance is a form of licensure that exempts the facility from having to meet certain staff qualification and program requirements. However, facilities licensed under a Letter of Compliance must meet all of the same health and safety requirements as those licensed as a Child Care Center.  All child care facilities must meet applicable licensure requirements before they may begin operating.

While child care facilities vary greatly in size, each one must remain within the maximum child capacity established for it by the OCC Licensing Branch. This means that no more than a specified number of children may be present in a given facility at one time. There are different types of child care programs and services, and a child care facility may be authorized to provide more than one type:

  1. Some centers primarily provide care for infants and toddlers. Others serve only preschool or school-age children. Most child care facilities provide care for a range of ages. However, letter of compliance facilities may not provide care to children younger than 2 years old.

  2. In many centers, children are usually grouped with others of the same age. Other centers often use mixed-age groups (for example, infants or toddlers grouped with pre-schoolers, or pre-schoolers grouped with school-age children). For child supervision and safety purposes, child care regulations specify a maximum size for each group that is based on the ages of the children in the group. The same basis is used to establish a minimum staff-child ratio for each group.

  3. Small group centers ("small centers") have a maximum capacity of 12 children and are usually located in private residences.

  4. School-age child care facilities offer programs before and/or after school hours and during school holidays and vacations.

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1.  Contact Your OCC Regional Licensing Office

Call the Regional Licensing Office responsible for your area to let them know that you are interested in applying for a child care facility license or letter of compliance. That Regional Office will be responsible for processing your application, inspecting your facility to make sure it meets regulatory requirements, issuing your license or letter of compliance, providing you with technical assistance, and answering any questions you may have about regulatory issues. The Regional Office will be your main point of contact for all matters related to your license or letter of compliance throughout the time that your facility is located in the area.

2.  Attend an Orientation Session

If you intend to apply for a Child Care Center license,
you or your representative must attend an orientation session held by the Regional Licensing Office that covers the area where your facility will be located. Applicants for a Letter of Compliance 
are not required to attend an orientation session, but they are strongly encouraged to do so. The orientation session provides potential applicants with detailed information about the application process and the requirements that will need to be met. It is also intended to familiarize applicants with State and local regulations pertinent to child care. If your native language is something other than English and you think you may need language assistance, please bring someone to interpret or take notes for you.

3.  Submit a Complete Application

At least 60 days before the proposed opening date, you must submit an application packet for a child care facility license or letter of compliance. This packet consists of (but is not necessarily limited to) the following items, all of which are discussed in detail during the orientation session:

  • 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

    In addition, the following items must be submitted to the Regional Licensing Office for review before the application process can be considered complete:

  • List of all facility personnel, along with staff qualification documents (if applicable)
  • Staffing pattern

  • Documentation of a criminal background check application for the applicant (if the applicant is an individual who will interact with the children in care), the director, and each paid employee who will have access to children in care

  • 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 (if the applicant is a company, agency, or organization) 

    Also, facility staff must submit a completed medical evaluation before being allowed to begin work

  • 4.  Make Sure the Facility is Safe and Properly Equipped

    The facility must be in good repair and meet all applicable building, sanitary facility, lighting, and food storage/preparation/service requirements set forth in
    COMAR 13A.16
    or COMAR 13A.17, as applicable. In addition, all areas of the facility to be used for child care must be safe and properly equipped. The following are just a few examples of facility safety and equipment requirements:

    • All potentially hazardous items such as cleansers, medicines, tools, and sharp implements are stored so that they are inaccessible 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

    • There are adequate, appropriate, and safe indoor and outdoor activity materials and equipment for the children's use

    • If children under 2 years old will be in care, there are enough cribs to accommodate the children, and each crib meets U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission standards.

    5.  Pass OCC, Fire Safety, and Other Required Inspections

    Once everything is in place for your business, a Regional Office licensing specialist will schedule an application inspection of your facility. This inspection is designed to determine if the facility and the child care program you will offer meet all applicable child care licensing regulations. It is also intended as an opportunity to address any questions you may have about operating a child care program. The facility will need to be inspected by the local fire authority to make sure that it meets all applicable 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 Regional Licensing Office. However, there may be fees for inspections by fire, health, and/or other local authorities.

    After all application requirements have been met and all necessary inspections have been passed, the OCC Regional Licensing Office will issue your child care facility license or letter of compliance.

    A child care facility is initially 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 that continues in effect until the license or letter of compliance  is surrendered, suspended, or revoked. However, A non-expiring license may be placed on conditional (i.e., probationary) status if the center operator does not comply with certain State requirements. Continued failure to comply may result in suspension or revocation.

    Child care centers are routinely inspected at least three times every two years. Two of these inspections are unannounced “drop-in” visits that are intended primarily to determine if child health and safety requirements are being met. The third inspection is an announced inspection that includes a comprehensive review of program records as well as an assessment of child health and safety compliance.

    As soon as you receive the license or letter of compliance, the facility may begin operating. The following are some community resources you may find helpful with regard to developing your program:

    1. Maryland Child Care Resource Network -- A statewide network of agencies that provide resource and referral services to parents to help them find child care. These agencies also provide staff training and support services to child care facilities.

    2. The Maryland Economic Development Assistance Authority and Fund -- Administered by the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, this program provides special purpose loans to construct, expand, or improve child care facilities.

    What is the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)?


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


    Contact Information
    Maryland State Department of Education
    200 West Baltimore Street
    Baltimore, MD 21201
    Maryland State Department of Education
    200 West Baltimore Street
    Baltimore, MD 21201
     Licensing Branch
    Regional Licensing Offices
    Finding the Right Child Care
    Parent's Guide to Regulated Care
    Una Guía para Padres (en español)
    Opening a Child Care Center
    Opening a Family Child Care Home
    Provider Grant Program
    Partners Newsletter
    Formularios de Licencia (en español)
    Resource Documents
    Enforcement Actions and Appeals
    Internet Links
     Office of Child Care
    Licensing Branch
    Child Care Subsidy Branch (Purchase of Care Program)
    Program Development Branch
    Credentialing Branch
    Maryland EXCELS Branch
    Grants Programs
    Child Care Resource Centers
    Guidelines - Healthy Child Development
    Early Childhood Curriculum Project
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