Do different states have different versions of certification for jobs in Child Development?

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Child development and childhood education merge in their education and careers. Many college programs incorporate both disciplines within their curriculum. For example, Liberty University offers a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education online. Two of the four featured courses involve psychology-developmental and childhood psychology. The latter examines psychological concepts and theories regarding parenting, children’s behavior, and cognition.

Appalachian State University has an online Bachelor of Science in Child Development. This 120-credits program covers a child’s developmental growth from birth through kindergarten ages. The study plan has an array of topics that explore child development (birth to 2 years), Kindergarten curriculum, leadership, and psychology of teaching. The coursework prepares graduates for work in many occupations, including a public school teacher (Prek or K), early interventionist, and director of early care and education programs. This degree may also lead to licensure or certification.

Therefore, whether you select a degree in child development or childhood education, the specific classes govern your knowledge of both areas. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Do I need to be Licensed and/or Certified to work in Child Development?

The answer depends in what field you plan to work. Is your career focusing on childhood education, childcare, child development, or a sub-specialty of one of these? We will look at the requirement for these professions in the following text.

Childhood Education

Using your degree in a teaching capacity will require a state license or certification. The certification requirements vary by state, subject, and grade level. Therefore, you must first determine in what state you want to teach, as well as the specialty areas, such as special education or childhood education.

Individuals who plan to work in the public school system as a preschool teacher must meet three criteria:

  1. Education Requirements: Successful graduation from an approved teacher preparation program. Approved typically refers to a regionally accredited institution.
  2. Pass the Examination(s): Obtain a passing grade on state/national competency test. The exam demonstrates your knowledge of early childhood education.
  3. Acquire State Teaching License/Certification: Earn certification through the state board of education where you reside and work.

Most states require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Some states stipulate the requirement of particular courses. Wyoming preschool teachers, for example, must have coursework in child growth and development, childhood curriculum, family relationships, and foundations of early childhood education.

Montana is less stringent in their requirements to work in childcare and child development centers. The Department of Education doesn’t license pre-K teachers. Their demands for preschool teachers working in childcare centers include the CDA credential, an associate, or bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or a related field.

The Child Development Associate (CDA)  is a nationally recognized credential in early childhood education (ECE).  A core set of competency standards is the base, which guides early care professionals as they progress toward being qualified teachers in ECE. The Council for Professional Recognition oversees and ensures that early childhood educators and caregivers meet their Competency Standards.

Certificates vs. Licenses

Different states have different rules when it comes to licensing and certification for teachers. Although the terms are used interchangeably – they are not synonymous in all states. Some teachers may require to be certified and licensed depending on their education level and qualifications. New York state, for example, mandates that teachers, administrators, and pupil service providers have a certificate granted by the Office of Teaching Initiatives. The state has four types of certificates.

Whereas in Louisiana, the Department of Education awards teaching licenses. Individuals who aspire to work in child development or education in the state face different types of licensure. For example, a high school diploma and a certification in early childhood education will suffice for employment in many childcare centers.

Specialty Certifications

One example is the Child Life Professional Certification administered by the non-profit Association of Child Life Professionals (ACLP). The organization maintains professional standards for the child life profession. Their 5,000+  members consist of Certified Child Life Specialists, child life assistants, university educators and students, hospital administrators and staff, school teachers, therapeutic and recreation specialists.

The ACLP specifies that applicants must have at least a bachelor’s degree from an ACLP-endorsed program, in addition to the specified coursework. Prospective candidates must also complete 600 hours of Child Life Clinical Internship under the supervision of a Child Life Specialist. Finally, applicants take a 150 multiple-choice exam that you have to complete within four hours. Those who pass receive their certification, which you must recertify every five years.

Another area regulated in most states is childcare facilities. People thinking of applying their child development degree in childcare should be aware of licensing or certification laws. It is illegal in Tennessee, as an example, to provide care and supervision for five or more unrelated children.

To work as a Child Day Care Specialist, you may need to meet state and local requirements, in addition to additional credentialing. If your state requires certification, it shows you have the knowledge to perform as a Specialist. The daycare center requires state licensing, although the employees do not need a license or certification. In Texas, the Director of a childcare center is qualified with an associate’s of applied science degree in child development or related field.


Certifications, licenses, and credentials differ by state. It becomes confusing due to the variances. Therefore, you should decide which state you want to work, what field (child development, education, or related), and what are the requirements by profession and location.

Additional Resources

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