Licensed vs. Unlicensed Child Care


Child care centers and family child care homes in Alabama are licensed by the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) with renewal every two years. Before a child care program is issued a license, it must submit a written fire and health department inspection report with no violations cited and zoning approval. The licensing process includes an annual, unannounced inspection by a trained professional from DHR to inspect all areas of the program to ensure that the Minimum Standards for Day Care Centers and Nighttime Centers are being met. The inspection includes the child care program showing proof of the required documentation in the Minimum Standards  including staff criminal background checks, staff-to-child ratios, and First Aid and CPR training, as well as inspecting the facility and grounds.

DHR License

As long as a child care program is licensed, it must display the current license and latest evaluation report in a prominent place. Many programs display an easy-to-read sign provided by DHR to inform parents that they meet the Minimum Standards. The purpose of licensing and inspection is to ensure the parent that their child is in a safe environment that will support their growth and development; however, Alabama is one of a few states that allows some child care programs to legally operate without a license or inspection.



In Alabama, nearly one-half of child care centers operating are uninspected and unregulated (Alabama Department of Human Resources, 2015). Alabama’s dual system of child care includes child care centers that are “EXEMPT” from licensing and inspections for basic health and safety standards, which means they are not required to meet the Minimum Standards for Day Care Centers and Nighttime Centers including staff criminal background checks, staff-to-child ratios, and First Aid and CPR training. In other words, exempt child care centers are not annually inspected by DHR or required to submit documentation of a fire and health department inspection in accordance with the state and local fire and health requirements. However, in Jefferson and Mobile County, the health departments inspect for health and safety issues.

Exempt child care programs can include:

  • A program that is an integral part of a church ministry or a religious nonprofit elementary school
  • A program that cares for children for four hours or less per day
  • A program that is operated by another governmental agency such as a public school or military base

There is a common misunderstanding that state licensing can prevent a faith-based child care program from teaching religious concepts, but this is not the case! State licensing focuses on health and safety concerns in child care programs. There are many faith-based child care programs throughout Alabama that choose to be licensed and inspected to promote the health, safety, and well-being of the children enrolled while incorporating their faith-based mission into the child care program.