Starting a Family Child Care Business in Illinois

About this resource
Reviewed: 2006

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

The Illinois Department of Human Services provides regulatory guidelines and a summary of licensing standards for day care homes.

Who should consider starting a family child care business?

The reasons to start a family child care business at home are varied. Mothers with very young or school-age children may wish to be home with their own children during the day. Older couples 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 child care providers:

  • have good health and a lot of energy;
  • enjoy being around children and playing with them;
  • like being their own bosses and working at home;
  • are creative and resourceful in planning for children;
  • are organized in their planning and record keeping, but can also tolerate a certain level of noise and disorder in their homes;
  • can communicate effectively and comfortably with children and their parents; and
  • respect parents’ decisions to work outside the home.

What else needs to be considered when starting a family child care business at home?

The decision to start a family child care business must 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 child care provider’s spouse and children include:

  • sharing Mom;
  • sharing personal belongings and space with others;
  • additional clutter at home;
  • the comings and goings of children and their families each day; and
  • phone calls after hours.

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

  • establishing clear guidelines with child care families about days and hours of the business operation;
  • being clear that certain rooms or toys are “off limits”;
  • building in special times with their own children—in your lap during story reading, for example, or a half hour alone with Mom once the child care children have left for the day.

Family child care providers can also create a positive vision of the decision to offer family child care by reminding their families of the benefits of having a family child care business. The advantages are many:

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

The decision to start a family child care business must also take into account your neighbors’ needs. The additional street traffic from families each day is a legitimate concern of a family child care provider’s neighbors. Discussions with neighbors about what precautions will be taken to ensure they will not be inconvenienced by a family child care business can help to avoid misunderstandings. When neighbors recognize the family child care home as a legitimate business operation, they may be less inclined to view the provider as the “block babysitter” who can watch other children playing on the block along with her own child care children.

What do children do all day in a family child care program?

Planning for a small group of children in family child care presents unique challenges for two reasons. The first challenge stems from planning for a mixed-age group. It’s not unusual for a provider to be caring for an infant, a toddler, two preschoolers, and three school-age children, for example. A living room or family room area will need to have suitable toys and play areas for these various groups to use simultaneously.

The second challenge stems from the need to use space 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 child care setting is less formal than a child care center setting, children in both kinds 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 child care homes offer quiet and active activities, for example, and activities that encourage creative, physical, intellectual, social, and emotional development.

What are the basic requirements to start a family child care business?

There are a variety of options to consider in starting a family child care business. Some family child care homes require a license in our state, 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).
  • Family child care 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 child care providers and their homes. Illinois divides licensed family child care into two categories: child care homes and group child care homes. A child care home provider cares for fewer children than does a group child care home provider. A group child care home provider often utilizes an assistant on either a part- or full-time basis.

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

In addition to being required if certain numbers of children are cared for, a license to provide family child care is one sign of professionalism. A license also enables family child care 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 child care business. Additionally, a family child care license qualifies providers to receive higher rates of child care subsidies and may make them eligible for other types of funding.

Accreditation with the National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC) is an additional step that providers can take to be recognized nationally for meeting a standard of excellence and professional distinction. To be eligible for accreditation, a family child care provider must

  • offer care to a minimum of three children in a home for at least 15 hours per week,
  • be the primary caregiver,
  • be at least 21 years old,
  • have a high school diploma or GED,
  • have 18 months’ experience as a family child care provider, and
  • be in compliance with all regulations of the authorized licensing body.

The Child Development Associate (CDA) credential is administered by the Council for Early Childhood Professional Recognition. CDA is a national program to credential qualified child care providers who demonstrate their ability to meet the needs of young children and families. Potential CDA candidates must document their child care 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.

Where can I find resources and support to help me run a successful family child care business?

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). Illinois has a statewide network of CCR&R agencies that assist parents in finding child care and assist providers in offering child care services. CCR&Rs can assist new family child care businesses in a number of ways, including the following:

  • Providing technical assistance. CCR&Rs can show family child care providers how to set up a home for child care, how to plan a daily program for groups of children, how to determine market rates for child care 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 child care providers fill vacancies from their comprehensive database of community-based child care services.
  • Providing access to training opportunities, child care data, professional development funds, toys and equipment, nurse consultants, and provider associations. CCR&Rs are the access point for child care subsidies, provider training, scholarships, and compensation initiatives in Illinois.

When family child care providers join their community CCR&R network, they gain access to information, resources, and support that can help them run a successful family child care business.

How can I find the nearest child care resource and referral agency?

The Illinois Network of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (INCCRRA) has information on how to contact local CCR&Rs on their Web site.

What other Web resources offer information on starting a family child care program?