Options and Regulations
Choosing child care takes time, knowledge, and effort to find the program or caregiver that is right for you and your child. There are many options for child care and early education available in North Carolina. Some are regulated by the state and some are not. Below are definitions of the different child care and early education options available.
Regulated Child Care
North Carolina law defines child care as:
- three or more unrelated children under age 13
- receiving care from a non-relative
- on a regular basis, of at least once a week
- for more than four hours per day but less than 24 hours.
Types of Regulated Child Care
- Family Child Care Homes
A family child care home is licensed to care for five or fewer preschool age children, including preschoolers living in that home. In addition, three school-age children may be enrolled. The provider’s own school-age children are not counted for the purposes of licensure. A family child care home with a one-star rated license has met minimal health and safety standards. A family child care home may earn a 2-5 star rated license by voluntarily meeting higher standards. You may want to review the rated license rules for specific details.
- NAFCC Accredited Homes
Family child care homes and small centers that are located in homes that voluntarily meet additional quality care standards may be eligible to receive accreditation by the National Association of Family Child Care (NAFCC). After a provider completes a thorough self-assessment of her/his program, the home is visited by a trained validator to assess whether the program meets NAFCC standards. Areas for assessment include environment, activities, and developmental learning goals, to name a few. Annual updates are required and re-application must be made every three years.
- Licensed Child Care Centers
Licensing as a center is required when six or more preschool children are cared for in a home, or when three or more children are cared for in a building other than a home. A child care center with a one-star rated license has met minimal health and safety standards. A child care center may earn a 2-5 star rated license by voluntarily meeting higher standards. Religious-sponsored programs are exempt from some of the regulations if they choose not to be licensed, but many have been licensed on a voluntary basis. You may want to review the rated license rules for specific details.
- NAEYC Accredited Centers
Child care centers that voluntarily meet additional quality care standards are eligible to receive accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Part-day preschools may also become NAEYC accredited. This process requires a thorough center-wide self-study process involving parents and staff. Accredited programs tend to offer more educated staff, better ratios, smaller group sizes, more developmentally appropriate materials and greater parent involvement. The center is visited by a trained validator to assess whether the program meets the standards. Re-application for accreditation must be made every three years.
- Centers and Homes with a Notice of Compliance (also known as “church exempt”)
Religious-sponsored centers and homes that choose not to be licensed must still meet minimum child care regulations and must also pass building, fire, and environmental health inspections. They receive a notice of compliance from the state licensing agency.
Unregulated care is not monitored by a governmental agency to ensure a quality environment that protects children. Child care that is not required to be regulated in North Carolina includes:
- programs that operate for four or less hours per day
- programs offered only for parents on-site (health clubs, supermarkets)
- care provided in the child’s home or by relatives (more information about this type of care)
- care provided in an individual’s home for up to 2 unrelated children
- programs run by public schools and not otherwise subsidized by the government
- seasonal programs operating less than four consecutive months per year.
Types of Unregulated Child Care
- Half-Day Preschools
Because they offer care for four or less hours per day, half-day preschools may legally operate without a license. Care is usually offered for three or four hours in the morning, with schedules varying from one day per week up to five days per week. Unregulated half-day preschools may also become NAEYC accredited. Call Child Care Referral Central for information about preschools.
- Care in the Child’s Home
Agencies or individuals that provide care in the child’s home are another form of legal, unregulated care. Parents may choose from nanny agencies, temporary care services, or home health agencies. Information about these other types of care can be found by contacting Child Care Referral Central directly.
- Other Types of Care
After school programs, summer day camps, private grade schools, intersession camps, and parents’ morning out programs or playgroups are all types of care that may be unregulated. Information about these other types of care can be found by contacting Child Care Referral Central directly.