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Working Together For Tennessee's Children

Choosing Child Care

Almost 300,000 children in Tennessee1 attend child care of some sort. According to child care experts, all children have these basic needs:

  • Health and safety
  • Positive relationships
  • Opportunities for stimulation and learning

This page will help you navigate the world of choosing the best child care for your family to ensure your children's needs are met when they're outside of your care. If your children are already enrolled in child care, this information will assist you in your ongoing discussions with your child care provider about your children's individual needs.

Types of Child Care

In Tennessee, child care is defined as any care taking place outside your home. According to Tennessee law, anyone who cares for more than four unrelated children must be licensed. Tennessee licenses and recognizes these types of child care facilities:

  • Center-based care: These are typically larger with multiple classrooms and may be referred to by many as "day cares."
  • Family-based care: Also called a "family home," these are run/operated by someone who has adapted their home to meet the state's requirements for caring for up to seven children in their home.
  • Family/Group-based care: This facility is operated by someone who has adapted their home or other location to meet the state's requirements for caring for up to 15 children.

The most important idea is to talk to your provider or your local Child Care Resource & Referral Center about their licensing status—there are some providers who are legally exempt from licensing's regulations.

To look for licensed providers, visit our Child Care Locator. To learn more details about the state's requirements for child care providers, visit here.

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Licensing and Star-Rated Quality

Example of Star-Rating Sign
Example of Star-Rating Sign
Example of Child Care License
Example of Child Care License

Child care providers who meet the minimum requirements set forth by the state to care for children are considered licensed. Providers are licensed on an annual basis and earn a Report Card, indicating their performance in different areas. If you do not know whether your child care provider is regulated by the Department of Human Services2, ask to see their posted license and Report Card, and make sure it is up-to-date.

In addition to basic licensing, Tennessee is a leading state in implementing a Quality Rating System, our Star Quality Program. Providers who meet additional criteria related to a child's development and environmental needs can earn one, two, or three stars. Each star indicates higher levels of quality above the basic licensing requirements that the child care provider has met. Providers must be open for one year before they are eligible to earn stars.

The Star Quality Program is voluntary—if you don't know a provider's rating, talk to her about her score and the reasons her program received it. As a parent, you know what factors are most important to your children, and understanding these areas of evaluation empowers you to choose the right provider for your children.

Beginning in 2011, child care providers will be given a sign, in addition to the mandatory Report Card, indicating their star rating. If you do not see this sign posted, then ask the provider what her rating is.

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Evaluating Child Care Providers

Every licensed child care provider in Tennessee is visited multiple times a year by representatives of the Department of Human Services. They provide the assessment, evaluation, and licensing that ensures providers are meeting the minimum requirements set forth by the state.

Additionally, Tennessee has a network of early childhood professionals who work closely with providers throughout the year to help and support them in creating the best environment for caring for children. This includes not only environmental concerns, such as cleanliness and adequate space for play, but also developmental standards, such as stimulating and age-appropriate activities.

During on-site observations, providers are evaluated in these areas:

Professional Development
Licensing and Compliance History
Parent and Family Involvement
Business Management Practices
Program Assessment

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Checklist When Visiting and Choosing a Provider

When you visit a child care provider, get a sense of how the children feel in that environment. Do they seem happy to be there? Do you see the adults in the room interacting responsively with the children?

Here are some other helpful observations to make and to ask a child care provider about as you decide what is best for your family.


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Tennessee's CCR&R Network

Tennessee has a large network of professionals committed to ensuring your children receive the best possible child care. The Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) Network can give you a list of providers in your area tailored to meet your child care needs (location, hours, ages of children, etc.) They also are qualified to discuss with you the areas of provider evaluation and how that relates to the development of your child.

To contact your local CCR&R office, visit their site.

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Child Care Complaint Hotline

Call the Child Care Complaint Hotline at (800) 462-8261 to report any child care violations by child care providers or workers.

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Financial Assistance

Tennessee has several programs to support families who need help with child care. Visit Tennessee's Department of Human Services or our Family Support page for more information.

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1: From NACCRRA's 2009 Child Care in the State of Tennessee report.
2: The Department of Education also regulates some child care programs. For additional details, visit here.

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