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How to Start a Family Child Care Business

The City of Philadelphia regulates childcare facilities for zoning, building, health and fire code compliance. If you are planning to operate such a facility, you will need to know what type of child care/use group you intend to apply for in order to fill out the appropriate documentation.

Child Care facilities in the City of Philadelphia are divided into two types: Residential Family Child Care and Commercial Child Care. This article describes the process for opening a Residential Family Child Care Business.  You can also view our video series on Opening a Child Care Business.

What is a Residential Family Child Care Business?

What is a Residential Family Child Care Business?

A Residential Family Child Care Business is a child care business operated in your home.  You are considered providing “childcare” if you care for any child between the ages of 0-15 years old, who is not your child, step-child, grandchild or foster child, for any period of time (including the after school hours).  This includes day care, after school care, and after school programs.

For purposes of Child Day Care licenses, “RELATED TO YOU” means the provider’s child, step-child, grandchild, or foster child only. 

A Residential Family Child Care Business is:

  1. In a building that is zoned Residential
  2. In the business owner’s primary residence (i.e., you live there)
  3. A maximum of 6 children who are not related to the business owner (except in City Council Districts 6 and 10, where the limit is 4 unrelated children)
  4. You may have up to 12 children in some City Council Districts if approved by the state.  These are called Group Residential Child Care businesses.  Residential Group Child Care Businesses require a special exception in Council Districts 6 and 10. Council District 9 requires a variance for Residential Group Child Care.

NOTE: A Family Child Care with a maximum of five children may also be located in an area zoned for commercial use. Providers are required to submit the following documentation to the License Issuance Unit along with the annual license fee and a completed Family Child Care License application.

Why does it matter if a child in my child care facility is related to me? 

The State and City departments that oversee the licensing, registration, and certification of child care facilities will ONLY count the number of UNRELATED children toward the maximum number you are allowed to serve.  In other words, you are allowed to care for any number of RELATED children in your child care facility, over and above the maximum number of children allowed which is stated on your License.

Steps to Opening a Residential Family Child Care Business

Step 1. Obtain a Business Income and Receipts

Every individual, partnership, association and corporation engaged in a business, profession or other activity for profit within the City of Philadelphia is required to file a Business Income & Receipts Tax Return, whether or not they earned a profit during the preceding year. To get your Business Income and Receipts Tax ID , follow the steps below.

  1. Register online: https://ework.phila.gov/revenue/


  1. Print the application found here https://business.phila.gov/media/combined-BIRT-and-CAL.pdf and submit it in person to the Department of Revenue at the Municipal Services Building, located at 1401 JFK Boulevard Philadelphia, PA. Do not mail your application.

Once your application is approved, your Business Income and Receipts ID will be mailed to you or emailed to you.

Step 2. Obtain Commercial Activity License

When applying for this license, first make sure you don’t owe back-taxes in Philadelphia by visiting https://secure.phila.gov/revenue/TaxCompliance/

A Commercial Activity License is needed to conduct business within Philadelphia. Prior to applying for any additional business licenses in the City of Philadelphia, you will first need to obtain a Commercial Activity License.

[NOTE: There is NO FEE for the Commercial Activity License]

Register for Commercial Activity License: www.phila.gov/li

    1. Online using eCLIPSE (the Department of Licenses and Inspections online licensing system): https://eclipse.phila.gov/phillylmsprod/pub/lms/Login.aspx
  1. If you are new to eCLIPSE, setup an account at http://www.phila.gov/li/instructeclipse/pages/default.aspx


    1. Print out this application https://business.phila.gov/media/combined-BIRT-and-CAL.pdf and submit in person to the Department of Licenses and Inspections at the Municipal Services Building, located at 1401 JFK Boulevard Philadelphia. Do not mail your application.

Once your Commercial Activity License is application is approved, it will be mailed to you or your can print it from your eClipse account.

Step 3. Obtain a Zoning/Use Permit

Zoning and Use Permit- Zoning is what determines what you are permitted to do in your property.  Check the Zoning of your property to see if Residential Child Care is permitted.

To find the zoning of your property go to the Office of Property Assessment Property Search.

Once you have determined your zoning, you can check the Residential Zoning Table to determine if you can operate a Family Child Care in your property.

Apply for a Zoning Use Permit:

NOTE: If you plan to open a Residential Group Child Care, you will need to apply for a Zoning Variance and then obtain a Certificate of Occupancy.

What if my building doesn’t have the right zoning? – If you can operate by-right, you will be given a Use Permit once your application has been reviewed by Department of Licenses and Inspections staff (about 20 business days).  If you cannot operate by-right (for example, if you plan to operate a Group Child Care), your application will be denied and you will need to apply for a Use Variance.  Refer to the Zoning Administrative Manual for complete instructions on applying for a variance.

Planning Best Practice:  When selecting a location for your business, it’s a good idea to find a building that is already zoned for Child Care “Use.” If you want to operate in a building that is not zoned for the type of use required, you will have to apply for a variance.  The variance process can be costly and time-consuming and there is no guarantee that it will be granted.


Step 4. Attend Health Department In-Home Food Safety Training and receive an In-Home Food Safety Certificate

An In-Home Food Safety Certificate is required to open a Family Child Care Business.  To obtain the In-Home Food Safety Certificate you must attend a Home Based Child Care Food Safety Training Course and a Health Department Inspection. 

  1. Contact the Office of Food Protection at 215-685-7495  to sign up for the In-Home  Food Safety Training.
  2. Once you have completed this 4 hour training, an In-Home Food Safety Certificate will be mailed to you.

Planning Best Practice: Sign up for this early because it tends to fill up!  You can schedule this training while you are applying for your Zoning Use Permit.

Step 5. Obtain Lead Safe Certificate

All Residential In-Home Child Care businesses are required to obtain a Lead Safe certificate from the Philadelphia Lead and Healthy Homes Program.  For more information, please see the Health Department Lead and Healthy Homes website or call 215-685-2788.

  1. Contact a Certified Lead Paint Inspector to perform a Lead Dust Wipe Test.
  2. Once you have received the test results from the Lead Dust Wipe Test showing your Child Care is lead-safe, submit Lead Paint Certification form along with your Dust Wipe Test results to the Health Department Lead and Healthy Homes unit.

Step 6. Schedule and Pass your Health Department Inspection

  1. First, read City and State health codes and make sure your facility complies
  2. Contact the Health Department to schedule Health Department on site inspection at 215-685-7495 or visit the Department of Public Health, Office Food Protection website.
  • Health Department Inspectors will ask you to show the following documents:
    • Use Permit (from Step 3)
    • Business Income and Receipts Tax ID (Step 1)
    • Commercial Activity License (Step 2)
    • In-home Child Care Food Safety Certificate (Step 4)
    • Lead Paint Safe Certificate (Step 5)

If you pass the health inspection you will receive a License Eligibility Report (LER).  If you fail, you will have 30 days to make corrections for a reinspection.

NOTE:  The LER is only valid for 30 days after the inspection so apply for the Family Childcare License and Food License right away, so don’t delay on Steps 6 & 7.

Step 7. Apply for City of Philadelphia Family Child Care License

  • Apply for the  Family Child Care License 
  • When you submit the application for your an inspector will be alerted that you are ready for you Fire Safety Inspection.

Step 8. Pass your Department of Licenses and Inspection Facility and Fire Inspection and receive Verification of Compliance

Inspectors will be looking for (but not limited to):

  • Building identification numbers
    • Building identification numbers (address numbers) should be placed in a position that is plainly visible from the street. Numbers shall be a minimum of 4 inches high with a minimum width of 0.5 inches.
  • Smoke Alarms
    • Family Child Care – A minimum of a single station smoke alarm (detector) powered by building wiring (hard wiring) or powered by a 10-year non-replaceable lithium detectors on each floor of the home (save the receipt). The alarm must be audible in the indoor child care spaces when all intervening doors are closed.
    • Group Child Care – Facilities are required to have interconnected multiple station smoke alarms (detectors) powered by building wiring installed in each story, including the basement. The alarm must be audible in the indoor child care spaces with all intervening doors closed.

Additional smoke alarms (detectors) may be required based upon the design of the property (ex : a basement sub-division will require one (1) detector per area).

  • Carbon Monoxide Alarms
    • Installed within 15 feet of the entrance of every bedroom and installed in the sleeping area(s) of the care facility.
  • Fire Extinguishers
    • At least one portable fire extinguisher with a minimum rating of 2-A:10BC (5lb extinguisher) must be visibly mounted in all child care area(s), kitchens and other areas of cooking.
    • All extinguishers must be tagged by a licensed extinguishing company and inspected annually. For new extinguishers, save the receipt and packaging from the box.
  • Means of Egress (the action of going out of or leaving a place)
    • All exit doors must be readily openable from the side from which egress is to be made without a key, special knowledge (example: a code), or unusual effort.
    • No double key locks are allowed on any exit doors (a double key lock has a keyhole on both side of the lock – these are prohibited) or locked rear yard gates
  • Portable Heating Devices
    • Portable heating devices that produce an open flame shall not be used in buildings during the operating hours of a Residential Child Care facility.
  • Property Maintenance
    • Property maintenance violations will also be addressed by the inspector.

Once you have met all of the City requirements, your City license will be issued to you by email (if you applied by email) or by mail if you applied in person.

Step 9. Apply for Certification with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

After you have received your City license, you can send your information to the State.  Please contact the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare Office of Child Development and Early Learning at 215-560-2807).

Once you register with the State, you will automatically be enrolled in Keystone STARS, Pennsylvania’s continuous quality improvement program.

Document Checklist

At the end of this process, you should have all the following paperwork prepared and available:

  • Business Income & Receipts ID (BIRT)
  • Commercial Activity License (CAL)
  • Zoning Use Permit
  • In-Home Food Safety Certificate
  • License Eligibility Report (LER)
  • Verification of Compliance
  • City of Philadelphia Family Care License
  • Pennsylvania State Department of Human Services- Child Care License

Planning Best Practice: Keep track of your documents by keeping everything organized in a binder.