The Role of Licensing in Supporting Quality Practices in Early Care and Education

Research BriefEarly ChildhoodApr 3 2019

Licensing is traditionally viewed as providing the foundation (or the floor) of quality early care and education (ECE). States and territories are responsible for licensing child care programs, and a license serves as permission to legally operate a child care program. The essential purpose of licensing is to provide basic protections to prevent harm to children. State statutes set parameters for child care licensing (e.g., define the settings that are licensed; National Center on Child Care Quality Improvement, NCCCQI, 2014a). State agency staff then develop rules that further define the statutes, such as delineating monitoring procedures and enforcement actions. Initiatives like Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) often build on the basic requirements of licensing to define quality and support programs in achieving higher levels of quality (Tout & Maxwell, 2010).

This conceptualization of licensing as a basic, first step toward quality has begun to change recently. Licensing is increasingly viewed as integral all along the quality continuum, not just at the lower level of quality. Further, some ECE policymakers are considering how all aspects of the licensing system— from the standards to monitoring compliance to enforcement—can support the quality of ECE. Although the conceptual relationship between licensing and quality is evolving, there is little research about how licensing influences quality. This brief provides a framework to support discussion and research in this important area.