Parent Resources

Child Care Scholarships

Qualifying South Carolina families may have access to child care scholarships from the South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS). Learn more about the Child Care Scholarship programapply for a child care scholarship, or contact the Division of Early Child Care and Education for details.

Registered or Licensed – What's the difference?

In order to legally operate in South Carolina, child care providers must maintain a valid license or registration or be legally exempt. State laws have established the level of mandated DSS oversight, which varies by type of provider.

Each type of provider is legally required to maintain a minimum level of regulation based on the type of care provided, but providers can choose to pursue a higher-than-required level of oversight to provide a higher standard of care. That means a family-home provider, which is only required to be registered, can instead choose meet the stricter standards of licensing.

A provider’s license is important, but it is not always an indication of quality. It indicates that they are operating legally and in compliance with state laws regarding health and safety. DSS licensing professionals can visit any child care provider unannounced in response to a complaint. A parent should always ask if a program they are considering is licensed, registered or exempt and should expect to see evidence of their status. 

Licensed/ Approved Provider

Meets basic requirements for health and safety child care

Routinely visited by DSS licensing professionals

Registered Faith-Based Provider 

Sponsored by a religious organization or church

Meets basic requirements for health and safety child care

Regular visits by DSS licensing professionals

Registered Family Home Provider

Required to register with DSS by mail

DSS licensing professionals can visit unannounced once per year

Exempt Provider

Only operates less than 4 hours per day or on school holidays

No licensing or inspections required by law

Voluntary Quality Program

Any SC child care provider can participate in ABC Quality, the state’s voluntary quality rating and improvement system. ABC Quality is administered by the Division of Early Care and Education of the SC Department of Social Services. ABC Quality staff monitor and inspect participating providers to ensure adherence to program standards. 

Learn more.


Types of Providers

There are four types of legally operating child care providers in South Carolina. Family members and friends entrusted to care for children by parents are not registered, licensed or inspected by DSS.

Child Care Center

  • 13+ children
  • Commercial, church or school based


Licensed, registered or approved

Group Homes

  • 7 to 12 children
  • Home based



Family Home

  • 6 or fewer children
  • Home based


Registered or licensed

Limited Operations/Holiday Care

  • Exempt from regulatory requirements
  • Open less than 4 hours daily or on school holidays
  • No licensing or inspection required by law



Want to Know More?

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Understand ABC Quality standards and ratings


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5 Must-Ask Questions for Finding Quality Child Care

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