Starting a Family Childcare Program in Illinois

Family Childcare is care provided for a group of children in a home setting.

Who might consider starting a family childcare program?

Reasons to start a family childcare program at home are varied. Parents of very young or school-age children may wish to be home with their own children during the day. Older couples or individuals without children at home may miss being around young people. Former teachers may prefer to plan their own programs for small groups of children, outside of the school system. Regardless of their reasons, successful family childcare providers:

  • have a lot of energy
  • enjoy being around children and interacting with them
  • like being their own bosses and working at home
  • are creative and resourceful in planning for children
  • are organized in planning and record keeping
  • are understanding of children’s sometimes loud, active, and messy play 
  • can communicate effectively and comfortably with children and their parents

What should be considered when starting a family childcare program?

The decision to start a family childcare program should take into account your own family’s needs first. Sharing household space with other children and their families poses challenges that require planning, organization, and flexibility. Some common concerns of a family childcare provider’s spouse, children, or other family members include:

  • sharing a parent’s attention with other children 
  • sharing household items and space with others
  • having additional materials and supplies in the home
  • comings and goings of children and their families each day
  • phone calls and messages after hours.

The decision to start a family childcare program should also take into account neighbors’ needs; additional street traffic from families each day may be a concern. Be sure to talk with your neighbors about plans for your childcare home.  Details about drop off, pick up, and noise levels may be especially relevant. 

What can help make a family childcare program a positive experience for a family?

Family childcare providers can minimize the disruption of family space and schedules by:

  • establishing clear guidelines with childcare families about days and hours of operation
  • being clear that certain rooms or toys are “off limits”
  • building in special times with their own children, either during or outside of the program day 

Family childcare providers can remind their families of the benefits of having a family childcare program.  Advantages include:

  • having more toys and equipment than your own children would otherwise have at home
  • generating income to help with family expenses
  • allowing a parent to work at home
  • providing additional playmates to play with, learn from, and care about
  • offering a valuable service for other working families in the community.

How can I maximize materials, space, and schedule in a family childcare program?

It’s not unusual for a family childcare provider to be caring children of various ages (e.g., an infant, a toddler, two preschoolers, and three school-age children).  A living room or family room area will need to have suitable toys and play areas for these various groups to use simultaneously.

Space must be used flexibly. For example, a kitchen table may serve as an arts and crafts area in the morning, a place for eating at lunchtime, and a place for older children to play board games or do homework after school hours. 

While a family childcare setting is less formal than a child carecenter setting, children in both types of programs need to have their day structured in a way that attends to their routine needs and to their need for a mix of activities. Family childcare homes offer quiet and lively activities, for example, and activities that encourage creative, physical, intellectual, social, and emotional development.

What are the basic requirements to start a family childcare program?

There are a variety of options to consider in starting a family childcare program. Some family childcare homes require a license in Illinois, while others do not.

  • If providers care for four or more children under the age of 12, including their own children, they are required to get a license from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). 
  • The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services provides regulatory guidelines and a summary of licensing standards for day care homes.
  • Family childcare providers do not need a license if they care for three or fewer children, care for children from one household, or care only for children related to the provider.

Licensing sets basic health and safety procedures and standards for family childcare providers and their homes. Illinois divides licensed family childcare into two categories: childcare homes and group childcare homes. A childcare home provider cares for fewer children than a group childcare home provider. A group childcare home provider often utilizes an assistant on either a part- or full-time basis.

What are the benefits of having a licensed family childcare home?

In addition to being required if certain numbers of children are cared for, a license to provide family childcare is one sign of professionalism. A license also enables family childcare providers to take advantage of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), a federal food program that provides reimbursement money for food served in the family childcare program. Additionally, a family childcare license qualifies providers to receive higher rates of childcare subsidies and may make them eligible for other types of funding.

What levels of professional advancement are available to family childcare providers in Illinois?

Accreditation with the National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC) is a step that providers can take to be recognized nationally for meeting a standard of excellence and professional distinction. 

The Child Development Associate (CDA) credential is administered by the Council for Early Childhood Professional Recognition. CDA is a national program to credential qualified childcare providers who demonstrate their ability to meet the needs of young children and families. One of the CDA pathways is for Family Child Care providers who work with children ages birth to 5 years. Potential CDA candidates must document their childcare experience and skills by compiling a professional resource file, getting responses to parent questionnaires, and recording training hours. After completing eligibility requirements, CDA candidates are assessed through formal observation, an oral interview, and written assessment. 

Gateways Credentials are symbols of professional achievement that show your knowledge, skills and experience in caring and educating for children. The Family Child Care (FCC) Credential is for professionals working as family childcare providers or assistants for children ages birth through 12 years. To earn the FCC Credential you will need to have specific levels of training, education and experience. Credentials are awarded and recognized by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) Bureau of Child Care and Development. Gateways Credentials are for individuals who live and/or work in Illinois.

Where can I find resources and support to help me run a successful family childcare program?

The first stop for anyone interested in caring for children in their home in Illinois is their local child care resource and referral agency (CCR&R). The Illinois Network of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (INCCRRA) has information on how to contact local CCR&Rs on their Web site. When family childcare providers join their community CCR&R network, they gain access to information, resources, and support that can help them run a successful family childcare program.

CCR&R agencies assist parents in finding childcare and assist providers in offering childcare services. CCR&Rs can assist new family childcare programs in a number of ways, including the following:

  • Providing technical assistance: CCR&Rs can show family childcare providers how to set up a home for childcare, how to plan a daily program for groups of children, how to determine market rates for childcare services, how to develop contract agreements and policies for parents, how to pursue a license for care, how to get NAFCC accreditation and/or a CDA credential, and how to keep business records for insurance and tax purposes.
  • Providing referrals: CCR&Rs can help family childcare providers fill vacancies from their comprehensive database of community-based childcare services.
  • Providing access to training opportunities, childcare data, professional development funds, toys and equipment, nurse consultants, and provider associations. CCR&Rs are the access point for childcare subsidies, provider training, scholarships, and compensation initiatives in Illinois.

Web Resources

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Family Child Care

Intended audience(s):
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Reviewed: 2022