Health and Safety in Licensed and Certified Child Care Programs

Licensing and certification are ways for families to know that a program has met basic health and safety standards.

Licensing and certification help ensure that child care and early education programs are meeting basic health and safety standards. In Minnesota, child care programs are required to be licensed unless the program falls under a specific exemption (often called a license-exempt program). The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) licenses and monitors child care centers and county/tribal licensing agencies. Family child care programs are monitored by counties. License-exempt programs must become certified to serve families receiving child care assistance. DHS certifies and monitors certified license-exempt programs (often called certified centers).

Becoming a Licensed or Certified Program

To be issued a license or certification, programs must show they are able to operate in compliance with state and federal requirements. Programs must:

  • Submit an application and other documentation depending on program type
  • Undergo a fire marshal inspection and health inspections (when required)
  • Complete background studies for all caregivers, household members (for family child care only) and staff
  • Complete required trainings
  • Receive a pre-licensure inspection and demonstrate compliance with MN Rules and Statutes (not required for certified centers)

Read more about licensing requirements for these programs on the DHS website.



In order to be in compliance with federal standards, licensed and certified programs receive an inspection each calendar year to ensure compliance with requirements. Annual licensing reviews for licensed child care centers and family child care programs are unannounced. Annual certification reviews for certified child care centers are announced.

Information about licensed and certified child care programs and inspections is public, so families can view a program’s license and certification history on DHS Licensing Information Lookup. Read more about understanding licensing records.



To help protect the health, safety, and wellbeing of children in licensed and certified programs, reports of possible licensing or certification violations and/or alleged maltreatment are investigated.

  • To report concerns about a licensed family child care program, contact your county or tribal licensing agency.
  • To report concerns about a licensed or certified child care center, contact DHS at 651.431.6500.


Correction Orders and Sanctions

If a licensor determines during a visit that a provider is not in compliance licensing rules and statues, they may cite a violation and issue a correction order to the provider or program. Depending on the severity of the violation, or if it is a repeat violation, licensors may issue additional sanctions, including:

  • Fine
  • An order to operate under a conditional license
  • Suspension
  • Temporary Immediate Suspension
  • Revocation

When licensors find violations in a certified center, they issue a correction order to the program. If the violation is serious and/or reoccurring, licensors may decertify the program.


About License-Exempt Programs

There are child care programs that are exempt from licensure under state law. These programs are often referred to as license-exempt or legally nonlicensed. These programs may be exempt from licensure because they meet other government standards for health and safety.

Other types of programs are license-exempt because of the limited number of children they care for and/or the relationship the provider has with children in their care. Some common examples of these programs, which do not appear in the Parent Aware online search results, include:

  • Family, friend, or neighbor care: the provider cares only for related children or children from no more than one unrelated family
  • In-home care: providing care in the child’s own home
  • Playgroups and exchanges

These license-exempt programs are not monitored by state or county licensors. If you are considering a program that is not licensed, it is recommended that you ask the program about its exemption from licensure.

For more information about the different kinds of child care programs, including Parent Aware Ratings eligibility, visit the Types of Care and Education page.

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