Safe Child Care Tools



Licensed or License-Exempt? Understand the Child Care Rules

When it comes to child care, Colorado families have choices. Some choose a licensed child care program, like a child care center or a licensed family child care home. Other families choose license-exempt care provided by a family member, friend, or neighbor, or FFN care. 

No matter what kind of child care you choose, all child care situations – even informal nanny shares – are required to follow state licensing rules.  

Colorado’s licensing rules are designed to keep children safe. 

Know if your child’s provider is required to have a child care license (English)

Saber si el proveedor de cuidado infantil de su hijo debe tener una licencia (español)

Helping You Understand the Legal Child Care Home Program Options for You

Research Licensed Child Care Programs 

At Colorado Shines, you can search for licensed child care programs. The search results show you basic information about the program, including ages of children served, languages spoken, if the program can support children with special needs, if the program accepts CCCAP, the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program, and more. 

Click on the blue VIEW DETAILS button to review the reports of inspection about the program. This important information allows families to make an informed child care choice. 

Want More Details about a Program’s History? 

The inspection reports at ColoradoShines.com are just a summary. If you want details about the investigations into a program or more information on a program's licensing history, submit a request for a public file review or call 1-800-799-5876.

Visit & Use the Child Care Checklis

Once you’ve decided that one or more programs look like a good fit for your family, it’s important to visit the program in person.

Download and print the child care checklist for a list of the most important things to look for in a child care program or provider and questions to ask. 

Get the safe child care checklist (English) 

Lista de verificación de cuidado infantil seguro y de calidad (español)


Is your child care provider required to have a license?

Colorado’s licensing rules are designed to keep children safe. There are only three types of child care situations that do not require a license. These three care situations are “license-exempt”: 

Occasional child care that has no pattern. Care for children who are related* to the provider and children from one other family. Care for up to four children, regardless of their relationship to the provider or each other, as long as no more than two of the children are under age 2. The total of four children includes the provider’s own children.

Does your child’s provider need a license? (English) 

¿Necesita mi proveedor de cuidado infantil una licencia? (español) 


*Colorado law defines “related” as a parent, grandparent, brother, sister, stepparent, stepbrother, stepsister, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, or cousin (through blood, marriage, or adoption).


ALL child care situations, including informal child care provided by a family member, friend or neighbor, are required to follow child care licensing rules. 


Does your child’s provider need a license? (English) 

¿Necesita mi proveedor de cuidado infantil una licencia? (español)

At Colorado Shines you can search for licensed child care programs in your community and find detailed information about each program’s licensing history. 

The first thing you will see when searching for programs is that each program has a Colorado Shines quality rating, Level 1 to 5. All licensed child care programs in the state automatically receive a Colorado Shines Level 1 rating.

Programs can voluntarily choose to participate in a process to demonstrate quality and earn a higher quality rating. Programs rated a Level 3 or higher are considered high-quality. 

Remember that a program rated Level 1 can also be high-quality because participation in Colorado Shines is voluntary for providers. That means it’s important for families to do their own research! 

In the search results on ColoradoShines.com, click on the blue VIEW DETAILS button to review all of the reports of inspection about a program. 

  1. Inspection Report (ROI) - The first report listed in this section is the report from the annual monitoring visit. All the other reports are investigations of potential licensing violations. 
  2. Complaints Made Against the Program - This is an important section for families to review. Read through the linked reports to understand how severe the complaint was and whether it was founded or unfounded.  
  3. Investigations Following Child Abuse/Neglect Assessments (Stage II) - If there are reports linked in this section, it means there was an incident that was referred to the county to investigate possible child abuse or neglect. This is the Stage I investigation. Stage II investigations are conducted by state child care licensing officials after a Stage I investigation by the county. This is a very important section to review. 
  4. Investigations of Reported Injuries at the Program - When a child is injured at a program, an investigation is performed and a report is created. This is another important section to review carefully. 
  5. Actions Impacting the Status of the Program License (Adverse Action) - If there are reports linked in this section, that means that the program’s license has been negatively impacted due to licensing violations. If you see that a program was on probation more than six months ago and there is nothing listed after, that means the program is back on a permanent license. 


If you want more details about investigations into a program or more information on a program's history,  submit a request for a public file review.

If you need help understanding inspection reports about a program, call 1-800-799-5876. 

Whatever type of child care you choose, it’s important to visit the program, observe the space where your child will be cared for, and talk to the provider. 

Use our safe child care checklist when you visit. 

The checklist has the most important questions to ask and things to look for related to health and safety, safe sleep for infants, the learning environment, daily activities, adult-child interactions, and more. 

Quality early care and learning programs support children’s long-term success! That’s why it’s so important to visit and make sure your child will be in a safe, nurturing environment while you are away. 


Get the Safe Child Care checklist in English. 

Lista de verificación en español

The State of Colorado recognizes only three situations where child care providers are exempt from licensing requirements. Providing care without a license outside of these three situations is considered unlicensed, illegal child care. 

Providing child care that requires a license without a license is against the law. Those responsible will face legal consequences.


Consequences for providing illegal child care (resource in English) 

Las consecuencias por ofrecer cuidado infantil ilegal  (recurso en español)

The Colorado Safe Child Care Task Force was formed to recommend necessary reforms in child care settings to keep children safe, inform parents and care providers about licensed and unlicensed care options, and work to help prevent illegal child care. 

The task force reviewed local laws and regulations as well as national best practice models to make recommendations for reforms in Colorado. 

Safe Child Care Task Force voting members were chosen based on a variety of qualifications and were carefully reviewed to ensure they are a fair representation of Coloradans and the people providing, needing and accessing child care across the state.

Read the Safe Child Care Task Force Final Report. Read the updates of the report recommendations.