Types of Child Care

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Types of Child Care


There are a variety of legal child care arrangments available in Illinois to meet the diverse needs of families. These include care arrangements in homes or center-based programs, licensed or licensed-exempt care, and care for the wide range of hours parents and caregivers work and attend school. 

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is the agency responsible for licensing Child Care Centers and Family Child Care Homes.  Any Child Care Provider accepting payment through the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) must also complete federally mandated training.  

Licensed:  A license means that the provider has met the State of Illinois standards for care in areas such as teacher to child ratio, educational qualifications, safety standards, capacity, and nutritional requirements. For more information on the licensing process visit the Department of Children and Family Services Sunshine website. 

Licensed-Exempt: A center or home may be exempt from licensing from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) because of characteristics such as school-age only services, number of children in care, and school or religious affiliation. Further information on facilities exempt for licensing can be found here

Licensed Child Care Centers

Child Care Centers provide care for groups of children outside of a residential setting. Children are usually grouped by age. 

Licensed Child Care Centers must meet Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) standards for health and safety including child-to-staff ratios and required space per child. 

There is usually a range of experience and education amongst center staff. All staff who have contact with children are subject to a background check for criminal activity. Centers may provide substitutes during staff absences or vacations who also submit to background checks. 

Mom and child

The following staff-to-child ratios and maximum group sizes are set by the Department of Children and Family Services: 

Ages of Children Staff-to-Child Ratio Maximum Group Size
Infants (6 Weeks to 14 Months) 1 to 4 12
Toddlers (15 to 23 Months) 1 to 5 15
Two Years of Age 1 to 8 16
Three-Five Years of Age 1 to 10 20
School Age (Kindergarten to Age 12) 1 to 20 30

Licensed Family Child Care Homes

Some families choose for their child to be cared for in a home-like setting. Family child care providers fulfill this need by offering care for children in their own homes. 

A licensed family child care provider must be at least 18 years of age, have a high school diploma or GED, obtain required professional development hours annually and pass a background check. These providers MUST meet Illinois Department of Children and Family Services standards for health and safety including child-to-staff ratios and required space per child.

Licensed family child caregivers may only care for up to 8 children including their own children under 12. With the addition of an assistant(s), providers may be able to care for up to 12 children. Children in these programs are comprised of a blending of ages ranging from birth to 12 years old. 

Family Child Care Providers often have more flexiblility with scheduling and may be able to make  other arrangements to accomodate individual family needs. Hours of operation vary by provider, but generally, family child care providers are the go to resources for families in need of evening and weekend care. 

Licensed Group Family Child Care Homes

A person who operates a licensed group day home is at least 21 years old with one year of credit from an accredited college/university or has a combination of work experience and education. Licensed group family child care homes typically include a full or part time assistant, allowing the provider to care for up to 16 children. Additional considerations in a group family child care home include square footage of the area of the home in which care is provided. 

Licensed-Exempt Centers

Licensed Exempt Child Care Centers do not operate under a Department of Children and Family Services child care license, but do go through a licensed-exempt certification process.  These type of programs include, but are not limited to: 

  • Programs that serve children three years and older and are operated by public or private elementary or secondary schools, intuitions of high education, or other accredited schools registered with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) .
  • Programs conducted on federal government premises. 
  • Programs caring for no individual child more than 10 hours in a seven-day week and are operated by a church or social service agency.
  • Programs offering short-term, special activities and are operated by civic, charitable, and governmental organizations.
  • Programs temporarily caring for children whose parents are on the premises.

Since these settings are not licensed, the Department of Children and Family Services does not regulate these settings for health and safety standards, staff-to-child ratios or maximum group size.

Licensed-Exempt Family Child Care

Also known as Family, Friend or Neighbor care, this type of provider may care for 3 or fewer children, including their own OR children from one family. 

Since these settings are not licensed, the Department of Children and Family Services does not regulate or these settings for health and safety standards.

School-Age Programs

School-age programs offer child care before and after school and for holidays, snow days, and summer vacation.  School-age programs can be found at child care centers, elementary schools, community centers, family child care homes, parks and playgrounds.

Some programs are licensed by the Department of Children and Family Services and some are exempt from licensing.

Child care activities


Preschools offer group programs primarily for three to five year old children for part of the day, or on specified days of the week. These programs can be stand-alone or integrated into a pre-existing program like a Child Care Center. 

Most preschools follow the school calendar and do not operate during school holidays, vacations, snow days or summer months. 

Preschool for All

Preschool for All is an early childhood education program for children three to four years old and is funded by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to provide a half-day preschool program at no cost to parents. The Preschool for All promise extends to all Illinois Children, though it will take time to provide enough classrooms to meet demand. 

This half day program follows the school calendar and does not operate during school holidays, vacations, snow days, or summer months. 

Download more information on the Preschool for All program.

Head Start and Early Head Start

The Head Start program for children ages three to five and Early Head Start program for pregnant women, infants, and toddlers promote school readiness for children in low-income families by providing comprehensive educational, health, nutritional and social services. Parents play a large role in the programs, both as primary educators of their children and as participants in administering the programs locally. Both programs provide pre-literacy and literacy experiences in multi-cultural environments. Parents are also provided social services, including assistance with childcare.

Still have questions?

Call our office for more information on care types and settings or for assistance in finding or paying for child care at (309) 205-3070.

Find Child Care

If you are in need of a child care provider our services can help you to identify the provider who might be a great fit for you. Learn more about our Parent Referral program here.

What Does High Quality Care Look Like?

Need help determining what a high quality early care environment looks like? Learn more about questions to ask and quality indicators to look for when you visit a child care center or home here.