If you love caring for children and are considering opening a day care center in New Jersey, you'll need to familiarize yourself with the state's specific laws governing child care centers.

The state considers a childcare center to be one that cares for six or more children under age 13, while those that care for five or fewer children under age 13 are called "family day care homes" or "family childcare homes". Childcare centers are required to be licensed, but family child care homes are not, although they are required to register with the state of New Jersey.

Understanding Day Care Center Requirements

The determining factor for a day care center in New Jersey is the number of children for whom you care. This means that even if you operate out of your home but you watch seven children (not including those who live with you), your business would be considered a day care center and not a family day care home, so it would need to be licensed.

Detailed licensing requirements for starting a day care in NJ can be found in the 102-page document "Manual of Requirements for Child Care Centers," published by the Department of Children and Families, Office of Licensing. It's available to download online, and you can also ask the department to mail you a copy. The manual is updated periodically, with the current version in effect until January 31, 2024.

Licensing for Starting a Day Care in NJ

Licensing regulations for starting a day care in NJ are designed to ensure the safety of the children in your care.

  • Location: The center must be in a safe location and not near potentially dangerous activities that could affect the health and/or safety of the children. What is considered dangerous is up to inspectors to determine. In 2018, the rule was added that day care centers may not be located in spaces that formerly housed dry cleaners or funeral homes.

  • Certificate of occupancy: Obtain a certificate of occupancy from the municipality of the location you chose. If the area isn't zoned for a day care center, obtain a variance to allow it.

  • Insurance: You must get insurance for the facility that covers the building with its equipment and also injury claims for anyone injured on the property. You'll also need car insurance for any vehicles and drivers who will transport children.

  • Background checks: All staff must undergo fingerprinting and background checks that search for instances of child abuse.

Staffing Ratios for a New Jersey Day Care

The number of staff members required for starting a day care in NJ depends on the ages of the children:

  •  Under 18 months — 1:4 
  • 18 months up to 2 ½ years — 1:6 
  • 2 ½ years up to 4 years — 1:10 
  • 4 years — 1:12 
  • 5 years and older — 1:15   

Additional staff is required for children with special needs. Fewer staff members are required to be in the room when children are resting or napping.

Education Requirements for a New Jersey Day Care

The amount of education, training and experience staff members need depends on the position being filled.

  • Director: Needs either a master's degree or a bachelor's degree and one year of experience.

  • Head teacher: Candidates for head (or lead) teacher need a combination of education and experience

  • Group teachers: Need either an associate degree in early childhood or child development, 15 college credits in the subject, a child development associate credential, a certified child care professional certificate or either a group teacher endorsement or NJ infant/toddler credential, both given by Professional Impact New Jersey

  • Program supervisors: At minimum, a high school diploma or GED, six hours of child care training and two to three years of experience

Registering Family Day Care Homes

Family day care homes having five or fewer children (not counting those who live there) aren't required to be licensed. They are, however, required to register with the state of New Jersey.

Registering includes an inspection of the facility to be sure it meets the requirements in the document "Manual of Requirements for Family Day Care Registration." It can be downloaded from the same website as the manual for licensing day care centers.

Licensing and Registration Fees

Registering a family day care home costs $25 and must be renewed every three years. Fees for licensing when starting a day care center in NJ vary depending on the number of children enrolled. For example, the licensing fee for a center with six to 15 children is $110 as of 2019, while the fee for a center with more than 180 children is $250. Licenses must be renewed every three years, and the same fees apply.