Child-to-Provider Ratio Standard and Group Size

The CCDBG Act requires states to establish standards for group sizes (differentiated by setting and child age), appropriate child-to-provider ratios (often referred to as child-staff or child-teacher ratios) for the specific age groups of children receiving care, and qualifications for providers appropriate to the type of care and specific needs of children.

Many research studies have shown that low child-to-provider ratios and small group sizes have a positive impact on the overall quality of early and school-age care and education programs and the experiences children have in those programs. For example, a 2002 literature review about child-to-provider ratios and group sizes includes these research findings about the impact of low ratios and small group sizes on children’s health, safety, mental health, and school readiness: [2]

  • Smaller group size is associated with a lower risk of infection in child care and lower rates of disease.
  • Fewer children per adult reduces the transmission of disease because caregivers are better able to monitor and promote healthy practices and behaviors.
  • Lower child-to-provider ratios are associated with fewer situations involving potential danger (such as children climbing on furniture).
  • Children in smaller groups are more cooperative and compliant and exhibit more social competence than children in larger groups.
  • Caregivers have more positive, nurturing interactions with children and provide children with more individualized attention when they are in charge of smaller groups of children with smaller child-to-provider ratios.
  • Smaller group size is associated with more developmentally appropriate classroom activities than larger group size.
  • Children in classrooms with lower child-to-provider ratios engage in more talk and play and display more gestural and vocal imitation.
  • Smaller groups of children are associated with more developmentally appropriate caregiving and sensitivity; more contact with children (such as talking, playing, touching, and laughing); more responsive and stimulating behavior; and less restriction of children’s behavior (such as less commanding and correcting).

The law requires states to describe their standards for group sizes and child-to-provider ratios in their CCDF Plans; however, such standards are to be determined by each state. To assist in this effort, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) published Caring for Our Children Basics: Health and Safety Foundations for Early Care and Education, a set of recommendations intended to create a common framework to align basic health and safety efforts across all early childhood settings. ACF also recommends that states refer to recommended standards in Caring for Our Children: National Health and Safety Performance Standards Guidelines for Early Care and Education Programs. [3]

A variety of data specific information, including state and territory profiles, are available in the CCDF Data Explorer tool on the Office of Child Care’s Early Childhood Training and Technical Assistance System website under the State Data & Statistics tab. These profiles include demographic information about children, families, and child care as well as contact information for the state and territory. Examples of information located on the site include the following:

  • CCDF subsidy program details, such as eligibility levels, waiting lists, and provider rates
  • CCDF children and families served
  • Numbers of children served by setting
  • Children 12 and younger, number of children living with working families, and poverty statistics
  • CCDF expenditures
  • Coordinating programs (for example, Head Start, CACFP, IDEA, Prekindergarten) and the number of children served
  • Licensing, including provider types and allowable capacity and ratios as well as information on QRIS, early learning guidelines, and coordination efforts at the state and territory level


[1] CCDBG Act of 2014 658E(c)(2)(H); Child Care and Development Fund, 45 C.F.R. § 98.41(d) (2016).

[2] Fiene, R. (2002). 13 indicators of quality child care: Research update. Presented to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation and Health Resources and Services Administration Maternal and Child Health Bureau, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care, University of Colorado.

[3] Office of Child Care. (2016). Child Care and Development Fund final rule frequently asked questions. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families.
Administration for Children and Families. (2015). Caring for our children basics: Health and safety foundations for early care and education. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.