Find Child Care

Choosing the best program for your child can be a difficult decision—there are so many things to consider. Child Care Referral Central (CCRC) can help make your decision easier. See a list of N.C. counties served, take a look at our referral policies, know the difference between regulated and unregulated care or review the steps to finding child care.

How it Works

When you call CCRC, a child care referral specialist will provide: information about the types of child care in your community, the features of quality child care, and referrals to child care programs that can meet your needs and the needs of your child. Using the industry-standard software called WorkLife Systems, your specialist will enter information about what you’re looking for and conduct a custom search for you. Together, you will discuss matches to child care programs that fit your unique needs. Some families may be eligible for Enhanced Referrals, which offers additional support services.

Find Child Care Now

CCRC offers three, free and convenient ways to obtain referrals to child care programs in your area:

Search online through Child Care Referral Central’s Online Referral system, available 24-7.

Call us toll-free at 855-EARLY-ED (855-327-5933) to speak with a child care referral counselor. Spanish-speaking counselors are available!

E-mail us at to request that a child care referral counselor contact you.

Webinar: Choosing and Using Quality Child Care

Interested in learning more about child care? Watch our webinar! During the session you will learn about:

  • What steps to take during your child care search
  • North Carolina licensing regulations for child care programs
  • What quality child care looks like
  • Different financial assistance resources for help paying for child care
  • How to access other community resources that are available to support your family
  • How Child Care Services Association can help you during your child care search
This webinar is brought to you through the financial support of Enterprise Rent-a-Car.

N.C. Counties Served by CCRC

CCRC refers only to legally operating, licensed child care programs and programs/camps for school-age children and has data on high-quality programs in Alamance, Caswell, Durham, Franklin, Granville, Orange, Person, Vance and Wake counties.

Services supported by the North Carolina Division of Child Development and Early Education.

Additional support for services in the Triangle provided by Durham’s Partnership for Children – a Smart Start Initiative, Wake County Smart Start, the Town of Cary, United Way of the Greater Triangle and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Options and Regulations

Choosing child care takes time, knowledge, and effort to find the program or caregiver that is right for you and your child. There are many options for child care and early education available in North Carolina. Some are regulated by the state and some are not. Below are definitions of the different child care and early education options available.

Regulated Child Care

North Carolina law defines child care as:

  • three or more unrelated children under age 13
  • receiving care from a non-relative
  • on a regular basis, of at least once a week
  • for more than four hours per day but less than 24 hours.

Types of Regulated Child Care

  • Family Child Care Homes
    A family child care home is licensed to care for five or fewer preschool-age children, including preschoolers living in that home. In addition, three school-age children may be enrolled. The provider’s own school-age children are not counted for the purposes of licensure. A family child care home with a one-star rated license has met minimal health and safety standards. A family child care home may earn a 2-5 star rated license by voluntarily meeting higher standards. You may want to review the rated license rules for specific details.
  • NAFCC Accredited Homes
    Family child care homes and small centers that are located in homes that voluntarily meet additional quality care standards may be eligible to receive accreditation by the National Association of Family Child Care (NAFCC). After a provider completes a thorough self-assessment of her/his program, the home is visited by a trained validator to assess whether the program meets NAFCC standards. Areas for assessment include environment, activities, and developmental learning goals, to name a few. Annual updates are required and re-application must be made every three years.
  • Licensed Child Care Centers
    Licensing as a center is required when six or more preschool children are cared for in a home, or when three or more children are cared for in a building other than a home. A child care center with a one-star rated license has met minimal health and safety standards. A child care center may earn a 2-5 star rated license by voluntarily meeting higher standards. Religious-sponsored programs are exempt from some of the regulations if they choose not to be licensed, but many have been licensed on a voluntary basis. You may want to review the rated license rules for specific details.
  • NAEYC Accredited Centers
    Child care centers that voluntarily meet additional quality care standards are eligible to receive accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Part-day preschools may also become NAEYC accredited. This process requires a thorough center-wide self-study process involving parents and staff. Accredited programs tend to offer more educated staff, better ratios, smaller group sizes, more developmentally appropriate materials and greater parent involvement. The center is visited by a trained validator to assess whether the program meets the standards. Re-application for accreditation must be made every three years.
  • Centers and Homes with a Notice of Compliance (also known as “church exempt”)
    Religious-sponsored centers and homes that choose not to be licensed must still meet minimum child care regulations and must also pass building, fire, and environmental health inspections. They receive a notice of compliance from the state licensing agency.

Unregulated Care

Unregulated care is not monitored by a governmental agency to ensure a quality environment that protects children. Child care that is not required to be regulated in North Carolina includes:

  • programs that operate for four or less hours per day
  • programs offered only for parents on-site (health clubs, supermarkets)
  • care provided in the child’s home or by relatives (more information about this type of care)
  • care provided in an individual’s home for up to 2 unrelated children
  • programs run by public schools and not otherwise subsidized by the government
  • seasonal programs operating less than four consecutive months per year.

Types of Unregulated Child Care

  • Half-Day Preschools
    Because they offer care for four or fewer hours per day, half-day preschools may legally operate without a license. Care is usually offered for three or four hours in the morning, with schedules varying from one day per week up to five days per week. Unregulated half-day preschools may also become NAEYC accredited. Call Child Care Referral Central for information about preschools.
  • Care in the Child’s Home
    Agencies or individuals that provide care in the child’s home are another form of legal, unregulated care. Parents may choose from nanny agencies, temporary care services, or home health agencies. Information about these other types of care can be found by contacting Child Care Referral Central directly.
  • Other Types of Care
    After school programs, summer day camps, private grade schools, intersession camps, and parents’ morning out programs or playgroups are all types of care that may be unregulated. Information about these other types of care can be found by contacting Child Care Referral Central directly.

Steps to Finding Child Care

A child may spend over 10,000 hours of his/her preschool years in a child care program. A good child care choice can make those hours rewarding, fun and safe for your child, and give you the security of knowing that your child is in a place where the potential for growth and development is greatest.

Whether you are looking for a child care center, preschool, family child care home or school-age site, here are steps that we suggest you follow when selecting child care:

  • Begin as early as possible. Many programs enroll months ahead or have long waiting lists.

  • Decide what is important for you and your child. Make a list of what you want to know about a program.

  • Call the program director or child care home provider to ask about hours of operation, cost, meals, transportation and policies. If you are interested, set up an in-person visit.

  • Visit a minimum of three child care programs and spend at least an hour at each site that you are considering. Ask your questions and use Child Care Referral Central’s child care checklists to look for quality indicators and compare programs. Observe all areas where the children are cared for, including outdoor areas. Look for danger signals that can alert you to problems. Listen to how the family child care provider, director or teachers are interacting with the children.

  • Get references from others with children enrolled in the child care program.
    • Some questions you might want to ask yourself:
      • Does your child like going to this program?
      • What do you like the most/least about this program?
      • Does the provider keep you well informed about your child’s development? How?
      • Is the provider dependable and reliable?
      • Does the provider make you and your child feel comfortable in the program? How?
      • If you had to find child care again, would your child still be enrolled in this program?

  • The work of parents in ensuring a quality child care experience does not stop once a selection has been made. Once you have made your decision, become an involved parent. Volunteer at the program when you can. Drop in and visit your child at various times of the day. All high-quality child care programs welcome and need supportive parents. Parents can also serve as advocates for their own child and other children by monitoring their child’s child care program.

  • Have a back-up plan in place. Inevitably, there will be emergencies at some point during your child care experience. It is wise to plan ahead and have arrangements for care in the event your child care program is closed or your child is sick.

CCRC Referral Policies


  • What is CCRC?

    CCSA helps families with child care needs through a service called Child Care Referral Central (CCRC). Child Care Referral Specialists help take the guesswork out of choosing care by providing referrals to local programs, information on the NC Star Rated licensing system and information on where to get help paying for child care. We also offer Choosing Child Care Seminars in the community and provide consumer education through our Family Focus eNewsletter and Fridays for Families video series on Facebook.

    Child Care Referral Central is a regional collaborative between CCSA and the Alamance, Caswell, Person, and Franklin-Granville-Vance Partnerships for Children. Child Care Referral Central makes finding child care in the nine-county area of Alamance, Caswell, Durham, Franklin, Granville, Orange, Person, Vance, and Wake counties easy and central for families.

    Watch this video to learn more about how child care resource & referral agencies help families.

  • What should I expect after I talk with the referral specialist?

    A CCRC Referral Specialist will give you the tools to be confident through the child care search process. They will help you take the process one step at a time and share with you the information you’ll need to make the right child care choice. 

    Information will include:

    • Types of child care options. You will receive a detailed printout, listing programs that are matched by criteria like quality ratings, type of care, location, tuition rates, vacancies, ability to meet a special need and more.
    • North Carolina child care regulations
    • Quality care indicators (checklists to take with you when you visit child care facilities & tips for checking references)
    • Cost of care & financial assistance
    • Developmentally appropriate classroom practices & positive teacher-child interactions
    • Details of visits by the state licensing agency
  • Why is quality important in early learning settings like child care or preschool?

    The first eight years of life are some of the most important formative years. Brain Science research confirms that early experiences have a direct impact on how children develop learning skills and social-emotional abilities that stay with them throughout life. 

    Participating in a high-quality child care program can help your child

    • build their Confidence. They get to practice new skills in a safe and nurturing environment.
    • build Relationships and develop secure attachments. These relationships help children to better understand themselves in relation to others, as well as practice social skills like conflict resolution, taking turns and how to share. They have the opportunity to interact with children of a wide range of ages and personalities.
    • feel that their contributions to the community are valued and encouraged. Early care and education settings often provide children the first opportunity outside of the home to have a voice and contribute their ideas.
    • learn life skills such as problem-solving. Teachers can help children develop their inner strengths and critical thinking skills, which helps to express feelings, resolve conflicts, and take responsibility for their actions.
    • develop language and communication skills. In quality child care programs, children are more likely to be exposed to large amounts of language and vocabulary through reading, singing and talking.
    • increase emotional regulation. Consistent and nurturing interactions with a teacher can help children manage and experience emotions, feelings and behaviors, which are foundational to success in learning.
    • develop empathy to understand how others feel in a particular situation and respond with care. Pretend play, reading stories about feelings, caring for animals or plants, having role models and compassionate teachers are all ways that children learn about empathy in child care settings.
    • be Resilient. Quality programs provide stable, supportive environments and meaningful ways to stay connected that are keys to children being able to bounce back from a setback or pick themselves up from failure. Children have the opportunity to get out of their comfort zone and be vulnerable while feeling safe to try new things.

    Watch this video clip to hear more about the importance of quality in child care.

  • What does a quality child care program setting look like?

    North Carolina has licensing standards that serve as a baseline for health and safety as well as provide guidance regarding more comprehensive needs of young children. One of the keys to a high-quality program is what happens inside the classroom. Teachers engage and tailor learning opportunities for children based on their needs through responsive language, classroom activities and language-rich environments. Positive guidance is used to foster independence, prevent & redirect challenging behaviors. 

    During your observations at child care settings you should see teachers who are responsive to the needs of each child, supportive and engaging experiences for children, positive interactions between providers and children, learning opportunities that are developmentally appropriate, interactive and plentiful, and health, safety and welfare of children are priorities.

    Watch this video clip to learn more about what you should see in quality preschools.

  • What are some questions I should ask before and during my child care search?

    Begin by asking yourself a few questions.

    Think about your child’s needs

    • What is the temperament of my child?
    • What kind of environment will help my child thrive?
    • If you have a school-age child, what are her/his interests?
    • Does my child have any special needs that should be considered?

    Now, focus on your family’s needs

    • How much care do I need? What days and hours?
    • Does location of care play a key role in our decision? Do I want a child care facility close to my home or close to my work?
    • What are our family’s budget considerations for care?  Use this budgeting tool to examine how child care will impact your monthly budget.
      • What is the typical cost of care in my county?

    For more information about child care in your county, check out these county-specific child care fact sheets.

    Take your child with you when you visit. Visiting in the afternoon is best for talking to the director; visiting in the morning is best for observing teacher-child interactions.

    • Observe all areas where the children are cared for, including outdoor areas. Be sure to visit the classroom your child will move into after aging up.
    • Listen to how the teachers interact with the children.
    • Ask your child if s/he liked visiting and does s/he think it would be fun to go there again.

View All CCRC FAQs »

Have child care questions? We can help!


Our staff members are part of the team of NC Child Care Resource and Referral Specialists who are operating the statewide child care referral hotline. If you are a family needing referral support from the hotline, please call us toll-free (1-888-600-1685).