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How do I search for a quality child care program in South Carolina?

For parents and caregivers searching for quality child care programs in South Carolina, the Department of Social Services (DSS) and the ABC Quality child care program ratings system recommends the following steps: learn, research and visit.

Step 1: Learn the different types of providers in South Carolina

Types of Child Care Providers

The first step to finding a quality child care program is to first learn what kind of child care programs there are in South Carolina. There are four types of legally operating child care providers in South Carolina*:

  • Child Care Center: A program designated as a child care center means they care for 13 children or more and operate as a commercial, church or school-based facility. These type facilities can operate as licensed, registered or approved.
  • Group Homes: A program designated as a group home means they can care for 7 to a maximum of 12 children and are home based operations. All group homes must be licensed in the state of South Carolina.
  • Family Home: A family home program is one that cares for a maximum of 6 children or less. These programs are home based and can operate as either registered or licensed in the state of South Carolina.
  • Limited Operations/Holiday Care: These programs are temporary and exempt from regulatory requirements. They are open less than 4 hours daily  or on school holidays. They do not require licensing or inspection in the state of South Carolina.

*Please note that family members and friends entrusted to care for children by parents are not registered, licensed or inspected by DSS.

Regulation Levels

In addition to learning the different types of programs, parents and caregivers need to also know that child care in South Carolina can fall under three designations: registered, licensed or legally exempt.

State laws establish the level of mandated DSS oversight, which varies by type of program. Each type of program is legally required to maintain a minimum level of regulation based on the type of care provided. Programs choose to participate in ABC Quality Program, which sets the standards for quality child care.

Being licensed means that a program is operating legally and in compliance with state laws regarding health and safety. A parent or caregiver should always ask if a program they are considering is licensed, registered or exempt and should expect to see evidence of their status. The definitions of each are as follows:

  • Licensed/Approved Program: This means that a program is meeting the very basic requirements for health and safety in child care. These type providers are routinely visited by DSS licensing professionals.
  • Registered Faith-Based Program: This type of provider is sponsored by a religious organization or church and meets basic requirements for health and safety in child care. These type providers receive regular visits by DSS licensing professionals.
  • Registered Family Home Program: This type of provider is required to register with DSS through the mail. DSS licensing professionals can visit unannounced on an annual basis.
  • Exempt Provider: This type of provider operates less than 4 hours per day or on school holidays and do not require licensing or inspections. Exempt programs that participate in ABC Quality are inspected by ABC Quality staff for health and safety regularly.

Step 2: Research a potential provider 

Remember, a licensed program meets requirements for health and safety in child care. Programs that participate in ABC Quality meets standards for quality child care. Parents and caregivers should research quality standards that exceed basic requirements.

Visit our search tool to research child care programs throughout South Carolina (by city or zip code). There you can learn if they are registered, licensed or legally exempt and whether they have formal/complaints or deficiencies within the last 36 months. You can also find out whether the program voluntarily participates in ABC Quality and their ABC Quality level.

Step 3: Visit a potential provider

Recommendations are useful, but an in-person visit can help parents and caregivers examine a child care program. This visit can help you make an informed decision on whether a program is right for your child and family.


By ABC Quality Team on December 28, 2020