Early Childhood Education Program Types

There are three types of child care – child care centers, family child care homes and license exempt – programs.  Child care centers and family child care homes each have their own licensing regulations. Exempt programs meet certain criteria and are exempt from licensing requirements.  The California Department of Social Services Community Care Licensing Division – (844) 538-8766 – is responsible for licensing child care centers and family child care homes to ensure that minimum health and safety standards are met.  Licensed child care programs are inspected prior to licensure and must meet the applicable licensing regulations at all times.  Beyond the general licensing regulations, each program sets their own admission criteria, program standards, operating hours, fees for service, policies and procedures. You may also contact licensing regarding substantiated or inconclusive complaints for a program you are considering. The Department of Social Services Community Care Licensing Division also posts information online at http://ccld.ca.gov/PG3581.htm.

It is important to note that the quality or educational value of a program cannot be determined by the program type, such as child care center or family child care home, or by the name of the program alone.  Child care programs can operate under a variety of names – preschool, nursery school, child care, day care, children’s center or simply school.  A high quality program offers developmentally appropriate activities that meet the social/emotional, cognitive and physical development needs of all children.
For assistance with finding a program that best meets your family’s needs contact the Child Care Resource Connection (CCRC).


Child care centers provide child care and supervision to infants, toddlers, preschool-age or school-age children and are usually in public or private buildings, school or church facilities.  A license is required for each age group a center serves, including infants and toddlers, preschool-age and school-age children, although care for any combination of age groups can be provided at a single site.  Each license specifies the maximum number of children by age that the program is licensed to serve at any one time.

Infant centers are licensed to care for infants and toddlers under age two.

Preschool centers are licensed to care for children 2 – 5 years of age.

Toddler Option is available to centers licensed to care for infants and/or preschool age children that want to include toddlers 18 – 30 months.

Parent Cooperatives are centers that allow parents to serve as teachers and aides under the supervision of a qualified director.

School-Age centers are licensed to serve children who are enrolled in kindergarten and above during out of school hours.

Centers for Mildly Ill Children are licensed to provide non-medical care to mildly ill children of all ages.  Level I centers operate as components of a child care center and may only serve those children who are enrolled in the regular program.  Level II centers are freestanding facilities and may care for children regardless of their regular child care situation.

Family Child Care Homes

Family child care homes (FCC) are always operated in the licensee’s own home.  FCC programs are in a residential setting and provide a home-like environment.  The number of children counted in FCC programs includes the licensee’s own children who are under the age of 10.  Unlike centers who are licensed to care for infants, toddlers, preschool-age or school-age children, FCC programs can provide care for a mixture of infants, toddlers, preschool-age or school-age children together in one group – or what is commonly referred to as “mixed – age grouping”.

Small FCC programs are licensed to care for 6 children when no more than 3 infants are present or 4 infants only.  They may care for up to 8 children if at least 2 of the children are six years or older and no more than 2 are infants.

Large FCC programs are licensed to care for 12 children, must have a second caregiver present and no more than 4 of the children may be infants.  A large family child care home may care for up to 14 children if a least 2 of the children are six years or older and no more than 3 are infants.


License-Exempt Care

Some programs for children are not required to be licensed, though they may have other statutory requirements. Exempt programs may include: special education programs, after-school or recreational programs, adult education child care programs, child care provided by a relative, friend or neighbor.  Contact the Department of Social Services, Community Care Licensing Division at 844-538-8766 for information regarding specific license-exempt care program criteria.

Trustline Registry

The Trustline registry is a list of license-exempt child care providers who have received a criminal background clearance from the Department of Justice, FBI, and Child Abuse Central Index of California.  License-exempt family, friend or neighbor and in-home providers (except grandparents, aunts and uncles) must be Trustlined to receive payment through state and federal subsidy programs.

State and federal funded programs

State and federally subsidized programs serve families who meet eligibility guidelines.

Head Start and Early Head Start

Head Start serves children 3 – 5 years and Early Head Start serves children under 3 years.  Both of these programs are federally funded programs that have been widely recognized as providing effective care for children of low-income families earning less than the National Poverty Guidelines.  Head Start is a model program that provides a comprehensive range of services for the child and family including services to meet their emotional, social, health, nutritional and psychological needs.  A major component if the program is an emphasis on parent participation.

State Migrant/Seasonal Head Start

State Migrant and Seasonal Head Start serve farm worker families eligible based on income guidelines and earn their annual income primarily from agricultural work, which involves the production and harvesting of trees and field crops. An essential part of every Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program is the involvement of parents in parent education, program planning and operating activities.

State Preschool

State Preschool programs are state funded programs providing a part-day with expanded day programs offered in some locations. California State Preschools offer developmentally appropriate programs in an enriched environment to benefit the social, emotional, physical, cognitive, language and creative development of children 3 and 4 years old in low-income families.  A major component of State Preschool is an emphasis on parent participation.

General Child Care

General Child Care programs are state funded programs committed to providing a comprehensive developmentally appropriate program in an enriched environment to benefit the children’s social/emotional, physical, cognitive, language, and creative development. Open to children under 5, they offer full day, full year programs open to working families and those attending vocational programs.  Some programs may have additional enrollment priorities.   Fees are charged on a sliding scale based on family size and income.

After School Programs

Schools are able to provide before and/or afterschool programs using state and federal funding.  Some schools choose to operate their own program; other schools opt to contract for services provided by programs such as a local Parks and Recreation, YMCA or a private provider.

Alternative Payment Program

The Community Action Partnerships CCRC is contracted with the State of California to pay for the cost of child care for eligible, low-income families. Help with paying child care costs enables these families to remain in the workforce and /or to obtain necessary training for self-sufficiency. Parents can choose from a variety of child care options: licensed family child care homes, child care centers, in-home and/or exempt care.