Child Care Centers

Opening a Child Care Center In Arlington

Arlington County Child Care Services Office offers licensure for any entity providing the care, education, protection, supervision, or guidance for two or more children under the age of 12 that Is not the residence of the provider or any of the children in care, or a facility with 13 or more children. This definition includes but is not limited to full- and part-time care, preschool, parents-day-out, and cooperative preschool programs.

Recommendation: Read this report from Arlington Economic Development on the need for child centers in Arlington business corridors.

Note that all Child Care Centers will also need to be licensed by the Commonwealth of Virginia. For additional information, see the Virginia Department of Social Services Website.

In addition to this guide on Opening a Child Care Center in Arlington, please see our supplemental guides:

Download Printable Guides: English  |  Spanish

The Licensing Process

Prior to beginning the licensing process, review the information provided on our website for potential child care centers, to include Arlington County Code Chapter 52.

If you have questions or concerns related to the licensing process, contact the Child Care Services Office via email at

Step 1: Preliminary Site Considerations

Consultation Request Form – Required

Send to: Child Care Services Office, DHS

Once a preliminary location or locations are found, prospective child care center applicants must submit a Licensing Consultation Request Form to the County DHS Child Care Services Office. Within 2-4 weeks of receipt of the form, the applicant will be contacted by a Child Care Specialist to schedule a consultation visit to the proposed child care location.

Online Child Care Center Pre-Licensing Orientation – Required

Child care center applicants are required to review the County’s online child care center pre-licensing orientation prior to starting the licensing process.

In-Person Child Care Center Licensing Orientation – Required

Contact: Child Care Services Office, DHS

Child care center applicants must contact Child Care Services to register for an in-person licensing orientation. The in-person licensing orientation is required prior to applying for a child care license. The orientation session provides an overview of the licensing process; details of the inspection protocol; and a review of licensing requirements and regulations, indicators of quality of child care, and additional child care related resources. All participants will receive a certificate upon completion; a copy of the certificate must be included in the licensing application packet referenced in step 2.

Code Consultation – Optional/Encouraged

Send to: Inspection Services Division, CPHD

It is recommended that applicants submit a free Code Consultation form with ISD. While not required, this consultation is encouraged to allow the applicant to discuss elements of construction with building code officials before the project reaches its final design. Each scheduled appointment is allocated one hour. It is recommended that applicants invite their architect and/or engineer to the meeting and bring any architectural or building plans.

Step 2: County Child Care Licensing Application 

Send to: Child Care Services Office, DHS

Upon completion of the in-person child care center licensing orientation, interested applicants who are ready to move forward in the process must submit a completed child care center licensing application to Child Care Services.

Step 3: Virginia Child Care License

Child Finger Painting Visit:

Child care center applicants are required to apply for a Virginia state child care license through the VDSS Fairfax Licensing Office, in addition to applying for an Arlington County child care license in step 2. The VDSS’ child care license review process is separate from the County’s child care license process, and will require additional training and documentation.

Child care center applicants may apply for state licensure at any stage of the process, but it is recommended to begin as early in the process as possible. Review and approval of a Virginia child care license takes approximately 60 days. Once approved by VDSS, keep all documentation of state licensure for verification by the County’s Child Care Services Office.

Step 4: Special Exception Use Permit

Send to: Zoning Division, CPHD

Arlington County requires a special exception use permit (use permit) by the County Board for child care centers. Use permits are filed with the Zoning Division (CPHD) which reviews the application for completeness and then assigns the use permit to a planner in the Planning Division (CPHD). To determine when to file a use permit, please review the County’s Filing Deadlines.

Use permits take approximately two to three months to review and obtain approval by the County Board. If approved, the use permit will include conditions which address and mitigate any potential land use impacts, such as parking, pick-up/drop-off, and noise from outdoor play. Below is an example of a typical condition included in a use permit:

“The applicant agrees that parents of students attending the program or employees of the child care center shall escort students to and from the child care center at all times.”

After the County Board hearing, CPHD Planning Division staff will email the applicant a link to the staff report, which will allow the applicant to apply for a certificate of occupancy from the Zoning Division. The applicant will also receive a letter from the County Board Office informing them of the County Board actions and conditions in the use permit.

Providing Parking Off-Site?

Applicants who request to meet their parking requirements at an off-site location must include a written agreement with the property owner of the off-site location in their use permit application. In addition, applicants must demonstrate that:

  • Off-site parking shall not result in parking being unavailable for the primary use of the site on which the parking is provided
  • Sufficient parking and circulation for pick-up and drop-off of children is maintained on-site
  • Off-site parking shall be located near the child care center and accessible by a reasonable walking path

Reducing the Required Number of Parking Spaces?

Applicants interested in reducing the number of required parking spaces for their child care center must submit the following with their use permit application:

  • Justification statement describing why the proposed reduction is being requested, why the requested number of parking spaces is appropriate for the site, and the projected percentages of modes of travel for employees and parents (i.e. drive alone, carpool, ride transit, bike/walk, etc.)
  • A preliminary Parking Management Plan

Planning and DES staff will review the proposed PMP and justification statement to assess whether the requested modification is appropriate and that sufficient parking and circulation for pick-up and drop-off of children are maintained.

Applicants requesting a parking reduction may experience longer review times for their use permit than the two-to-three-month timeline. Once the review is complete, staff will make a recommendation to the County Board to approve, modify, or deny the request to modify the number of parking spaces as part of the use permit, and the County Board will make the final decision.

Parking Management Plan

Send to: Zoning Division, CPHD

Applicants must submit a preliminary Parking Management Plan (PMP) with their use permit submittal package. A PMP outlines the location and logistics of on-street and off-street parking, queuing, and pick-up/drop-off. Planning and DES staff will review the PMP to ensure that parking and pick-up/drop-off can be accommodated and/or reduced without impacting the surrounding neighborhood.

A finalized PMP is required before a certificate of occupancy can be issued for a child care center. Arlington County has created a document titled “Minimum Acceptance Criteria for Center-Based Child Care Parking Management Plans” to assist applicants with this process.

Use Permit Supplemental Documents

In addition to the use permit application and payment, the following information is needed:

  • Signed disclosure statement
  • Scaled drawing depicting site parking, play areas, fencing, additional structures and on-site circulation for pick-up and drop-off
  • Scaled floor plan depicting all areas/rooms where children and their teachers/caretakers will be present
  • List of outdoor play equipment, with photos and design details
  • Letter of support from the Child Care Services Office
  • Letter of support from affected civic associations or provide evidence of outreach or why no civic associations are affected by the child care center
  • Pictures of interior and exterior of property
  • Property owner consent (if operating out of a leased commercial space)
  • Preliminary Parking Management Plan

Step 5: Commercial Building Permit

Send to: Inspection Services Division, CPHD

Applicants seeking to open a child care center must file a Commercial Building Permit application after the County Board approves the use permit. The associated supplemental documents for the Commercial Building Permit application are listed on the application and vary depending whether the proposal includes new construction, an addition, or interior alterations.

Filing fees are due upon submittal. Upon receipt of the submission and filing fee, an ISD specialist will enter the application information and generate a permit number for the plans. If submitted online, the application will be routed to all appropriate review groups (ISD, Zoning, DES, and DHS) as required. If submitted in person via paper, applicants are responsible for taking the plans to all appropriate County review groups. If the plans are rejected by the County, applicants must make the required edits to the plans/drawings and submit plan revisions to the County.

Throughout the building permit process and depending on the extent of the work, applicants will be required to complete different inspections. Applicants should view ISD’s website for a list of required inspections or call the main line at 703-228-3800. For fire alarm and sprinkler systems, call the ISD Fire Inspector at 703-228-3846. The code consultation mentioned in step 2 will inform applicants early in the process about these details.

After all departmental reviews have been approved, applicants must pay for the full cost of the permit and will then receive their permit and placard. Once the permit is issued, construction may begin.

Food Service Plan Review Application

If a child care center program plans to cook, prepare, and/or serve food, applicants will need to submit a food service plan review application(PDF, 654KB) along with their Commercial Building Permit. For online submissions, the application will be routed to the Public Health Division only if the applicant checks YES to the building permit application question “Will you be preparing, serving, or selling food?” In-person paper applications must be taken to DHS by the applicant. Please refer to the County’s website for review times.

All Food Service Plans must include:

  • Scaled floor plan of the food service areas
  • Layout of all food service equipment including preparation, storage, dish washing, and plumbing fixtures
  • Complete equipment list stating manufacturer and model number of each item, and a method of identifying each item on the food service equipment layout
  • Schedule of floors, walls and ceiling finishes, including type of material in the food service areas
  • Sample menu
  • Proof of a Certified Food Protection Manager.

Building Permits are needed when there is a proposal for:

  • New construction
  • An addition to an existing building
  • Change of use
  • Interior alterations
  • An increase in the number of children
  • Change in the age of children served

Step 6: Trade Name Registration

Send to: Office of the Commissioner of Revenue

Visit: to apply for a FEIN/EIN

Visit: to register with the State Corporation Commission

Trade name registration is required for child care center programs that plan to operate under an assumed name. Registration takes approximately two weeks for review and approval. Prior to applying for a trade name registration, every employer must have a federal employer identification number (FEIN/EIN). This number is a nine-digit number that the US Internal Revenue Service uses to identify businesses for tax purposes and stays with a business for its operational lifetime.

Child care applicants must also register with the State Corporation Commission if they choose to operate as a corporation or limited partnership.

Step 7: Business License

Send to: Office of the Commissioner of Revenue

In order to operate a child care center, applicants must obtain a business license from the Office of the Commissioner of Revenue. It is illegal to engage in any business without first obtaining a business license. The Office of the Commissioner of Revenue will assign a business license number to the application.

Step 8: Apply for a Certificate of Occupancy

Send to: Zoning Division, CPHD before 4:30 p.m.

certificate of occupancy (CO) is issued when a child care center can demonstrate compliance with all regulations of Arlington County, including laws and ordinances. All CO applications must be filed with the Zoning Division at least one month prior to occupying and opening a child care center. CO applications may be filed at any time after the commercial building permit application and should be filed before commercial building permit inspections are completed.

The Zoning Division will assign a file number to the CO application. Once a number has been assigned to the application, applicants must notify the following agencies of the CO number:

  1. Office of the Commissioner of Revenue (reference the business license number)
  2. County Child Care Services Office

Food Establishment License Application and Pre-Opening Inspection

Send to: Environmental Health Program of the Health Division

health license and pre-opening inspection are required for child care centers which cook, prepare, or serve food. This process occurs during the review of the CO.

Once applicants have submitted their food establishment license application, they must schedule a pre-opening inspection.

Prior to a pre-opening inspection, the following items must be available:

  • A Certified Food Protection Manager on duty during all hours of operation and the pre-opening inspection.
  • A calibrated food thermometer
  • Soap, paper towels, and handwashing signage at all handwashing sinks
  • Dish soap, sanitizer (chlorine-bleach or quaternary ammonium), and three sink stoppers
  • Sanitizer test strips to test the chlorine-bleach or quaternary ammonium
  • All floor junctures covered or sealed
  • Weather stripping at all doors that open to the outside
  • Thermometers in all refrigerators and freezers. All refrigerators must be 41°F or less. All freezers must be 32°F or less.
  • Light shielding or shatter resistant bulbs in food storage or preparation areas
  • Hot/cold water at all plumbing fixtures
  • The final menus
  • An employee health policy (see FDA form 1-B)
  • A policy or procedure for cleaning up vomit and diarrhea accidents
  • A certificate of occupancy number from the Zoning Division

Step 9: Sign Permit

Send to: Zoning Division, CPHD

sign permit is required before any sign or advertising is erected, displayed, replaced, refaced or its dimensions altered. A sign permit can be submitted with a CO application, during its review, or after its approval; but a sign permit cannot be submitted until a CO is on file with the County.

A sign permit is processed administratively and can be approved or rejected within five business days if all supporting documentation is complete.

Required supplemental documents for signs placed below a height of 40 ft.

  • Letter of consent from the property owner
  • Two pictures/drawings showing sign placement on building
  • Two 11” x 17” pictures/drawings of the proposed sign(s), including dimensions
  • Plat showing proposed location of freestanding sign and distance from property lines or any public right-of-way
  • Photographs and dimensions of all existing signs on site, including signs to be removed
  • Two copies of plans for attachment or structures (to scale)
  • Approved or filed CO
  • Administrative Change Form if the property is subject to a Site Plan and there has not been a prior approval for the sign through either a Site Plan Amendment or
  • Administrative Change process (to search if your property is subject to a site plan, see the “Is My Property Subject to a Site Plan?” section in the Additional Resources chapter or contact Planning Division staff)

The County has different regulations for signs placed above 40 feet. If applicants choose to have a sign that is placed 40 feet or higher on their building, they should contact the Zoning Division for more information.

Step 10: Issued Certificate of Occupancy

Acquiring a CO is one of the final steps in operating a child care center in a new or altered building or changing the occupancy, location, ownership, or use of a building or property. Upon approval by the Zoning Division, a Zoning Inspector will contact the child care center applicant to schedule an inspection of the child care center.

After Zoning Inspection approval, the applicant should contact ISD to confirm all inspections are completed. Please allow one business day for ISD to confirm that all inspections are completed or to contact the applicant with information on any outstanding inspections or approvals. The final CO will list the maximum number of children permitted for the child care center, which is based on the square footage of the center.

Step 11: Validation Inspection & County Child Care License

A County child care specialist will contact the applicant to schedule an appointment to conduct an on-site validation inspection once the application is deemed complete. The applicant should notify Child Care Services with their expected opening date. The validation inspection is to assess health and safety concerns, validate license capacity, and provide technical assistance. During the inspection, the applicant must have the following items available:

  • Background checks
  • Child records
  • Staff records
  • Medical clearances
  • Health inspections
  • Sample forms

After completing the DHS validation inspection, a conditional child care license will be issued to the applicant when all areas of noncompliance, if any, have been corrected. A license will not be issued without verification of the CO application number and use permit. The conditional license will be issued for a period of six months to allow the licensee to demonstrate compliance with sections of the regulations which could not be determined during the validation inspection.

A regular child care license will be issued after the conditional period has ended and is valid for two years. The regular license must be renewed prior to the expiration date. Child care programs must also obtain a Virginia child care license from VDSS before they can receive a regular license from the County.





Have questions or need further information? Email the Child Care Services Office at