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Certification, Licensing, and Accreditation: Standards that Govern Child Care


While looking for child care, you may hear that a provider or program is certified, licensed, or accredited. Each of these terms refers to a type of approval that a provider receives for meeting certain standards of quality. The rules behind these standards address a range of concerns from health and safety to a child's development. Understanding the rules that a provider has agreed to follow can help you decide which child care setting is right for your child.

State licensing

The goal of state child care licensing is to ensure the safety and developmental well-being of children while in out-of-home care. Licensing laws vary from state to state, as does oversight of licensing, but it usually involves periodic inspections of a facilities. Be sure to ask about licensing requirements in your state.

Certification sets a worldwide military standard

The Department of Defense (DoD) certification of child care programs is comparable to the state licensing process. While licensing standards vary from state to state, DoD standards are the same worldwide. You can expect to see the same level of quality when you move from one installation to another. DoD standards address health, safety, parent involvement, staff training requirements, and developmentally appropriate practices.

Whether you're looking at Child Development Centers (CDC), Family Child Care (FCC) homes (also known as child development homes), or School Age Care (SAC) programs, you'll find that all child care on military installations are required to be DoD-certified.

The requirements for certification are similar in all Services. Military child care programs are all based on the same DoD instructions and certification checklist. Where they differ, the standards must be more stringent than those set by DoD. The rules are specific to the type of care and the age of the children.

Accreditation is important

All CDCs and SAC programs on military installations are accredited by a national accrediting body. FCC providers are encouraged and supported in their effort to seek accreditation from the National Association for Family Child Care.

While 8 to 10 percent of civilian child care centers are accredited, 97 percent of centers at military installations have earned that status.

Providers first assess their own program in detail and then the accrediting organization observes, reviews documentation, and talks with people in the program. Most programs then spend time making adjustments before accreditation is awarded. Accreditation must be renewed regularly by the accrediting organization. The result is that providers are continually evaluating their program and looking for ways to improve it. Studies have shown that accredited programs have more child-initiated activities, higher staff morale, better-defined goals, and a more culturally diverse curriculum than non-accredited care.

Learn more

You can learn more about military child care certification standards from your installation CDC. To find your nearest CDC, visit MilitaryINSTALLATIONS. Select Child Development Centers in the "Looking for specific program or service" box.

If you can't use military child care because you live too far away from an installation, or there aren't enough spaces, new programs help military parents find and afford quality child care off of the installation. Child Care Aware of America, formerly NACCRRA, working with the DoD, provides fee-assistance to offset the higher cost of community-based care and offers specialized resource and referral services for eligible military parents. To learn more, visit the Child Care Aware of America website and look for "Military Families." Click on the Child Care Aware icon to begin the search for child care in your community.


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