How to Start a Daycare in Virginia

Part of the appeal of opening a day care business is that you can operate it out of your home. In-home day care, which the state of Virginia calls Family Day Homes, is the most common type of day care in the country. Whether you operate in your home or out of it, you must comply with Virginia child care licensing laws unless you fit one of the exemptions.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

To obtain Virginia child care licensing, you apply to the state, undergo a background check, and submit floor plans of your proposed day care showing how the space will be used. You also undergo pre-licensing training and a state inspection. An in-home day care with four kids or less can open without licensing, although you can voluntarily register with the state.

Virginia Child Care Licensing

Virginia law breaks day care businesses into two major categories, in-home day care and out-of-home day care. The state also breaks them down depending on whether they require Virginia child care licensing.

  • Licensed day care programs must meet state training, health and safety requirements. Staff members undergo background checks, and the program is inspected twice a year. Most out-of-home day care has to be licensed.

  • Unlicensed but regulated facilities include family day homes and religious-based day care centers. Religious day care doesn't undergo inspection unless there's a complaint; family day care only has to be inspected every couple of years.

  • Approved day care programs are regulated by a government body other than the Virginia Department of Social Services (DSS). Some Virginia cities, for example, can approve day care businesses by local ordinance.

  • Unlicensed and unregulated programs must meet exemptions in Virginia law. Programs that focus on a particular field, such as sports, music or computers, might qualify.  They must still follow the unlicensed child care laws of Virginia, such as not employing sex offenders.

Whether you can operate without a license depends partly on whether you meet rules such as the Virginia home day care ratio.

  • If you care for four kids or less, not counting your own children, you're unlicensed but regulated.

  • If you care for five to 12 children, you need a license.

  • If you care for more than four children under the age of two, counting your own, you need a license. 

Getting Your License

Virginia child care licensing protects children in day care from abuse or mistreatment, but it's also good for your business. A license says that you've been background-checked and trained, which is the kind of thing parents like to know. The DSS has Virginia child care licensing offices throughout the state where you can start the application process and ask for licensing advice.

To apply, submit the forms with all required information and documentation along with the appropriate fee. Unless you have prior day care experience, you also have to complete a prelicensing orientation program that covers health and safety standards. The application includes:

  • A certificate of occupancy for the building that houses your day care

  • Floor plans showing the use of space of the building if it hasn't been used for day care before and how it complies with the relevant state regulations

  • A background check on you

  • An on-site inspection by an investigator from DSS that includes your financial records unless you submit an operating budget and at least one credit reference

Registering Your Day Care

If you're only planning to take care of three kids in your home over the age of two, for example, you don't need a license. It might be worth registering with DSS, though. This isn't as onerous as the licensing process, but it gives you added credibility with parents if they know you meet the unlicensed child care laws of Virginia.

Along with your registration application, you must submit:

  • A $50 fee.

  • Results of a TB screening.

  • Results of a criminal history search and a child-abuse registry search.

  • A sworn statement or affirmation that any adults living in your home are safe around kids. Children who are age 14 to 17 and living at home must undergo a child abuse check.

  • A self-assessment of how well you comply with state health and safety requirements. Virginia DSS provides the health and safety checklist.