Is a Chilld Development Associate (CDA) Credential Required to Work in Daycare?

Is a Chilld Development Associate (CDA) Credential Required to Work in Daycare?

Published Date: 03/24/21

A Guide to Obtaining Your Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential

Early childhood educators must ensure that they are properly trained and that they meet all requirements mandated by their state’s licensing offices. While each state’s requirements may vary, there is a credential early educators can obtain that is recognized nationally. It is called the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential. This credential is a great way for early educators to receive the professional development that will be beneficial in any early childhood setting.

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What is a Child Development Associate credential?


The Child Development Associate credential is a nationally recognized credential for early childhood educators. It was first awarded in 1975 and is administered by the Council for Professional Recognition as of 1985.

The CDA credential is based on a set of Competency Standards. The standards include “6 Competency Goals”.

The goals are:

  1. To establish and maintain a safe, healthy, learning environment.
  2. To advance physical and intellectual competence.
  3. To support social and emotional development and to provide positive guidance.
  4. To establish positive and productive relationships with families.
  5. To ensure a well-run, purposeful program responsible to participant needs.
  6. To maintain a commitment to professionalism.


6 competency goals for a child development associate (CDA) credential


Each of these goals are either a general statement of purpose or a goal for the educator’s behavior. The goals are further broken down into 13 Functional Areas and those functional areas specify the tasks associated with the Competency Goals.


The functional areas are explained in a brief overview of child development principles called the Development Context.


13 functional areas for a child development associate (CDA) credential


The CDA credential has 4 different settings that applicants can choose from. The settings are:


  • Preschool – a center-based preschool setting where the applicant can be observed teaching, at least, 8 children ages 3 through 5.
  • Infant/Toddler - a center-based infant/toddler setting where the applicant can be observed teaching, at least, 3 children under the age of 3.
  • Family Child Care – a home-based setting where the applicant can be observed teaching at least two children 5 years old or younger. The children must not be related to the applicant by blood or marriage.
  • Home Visitor – a program of home visits that supports parents in meeting the needs of their children who are 5 years old or younger.


Related: 10 Steps to Starting a Home Daycare


The 6 Competency Goals are the same for each of the settings. However, the definitions and sample behaviors in the Functional Areas differ depending on the setting and age group.


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Do I need a CDA to work in a daycare?


You do not need a CDA to work in a daycare. Each state sets their own requirements for training and education needed to work in licensed childcare settings. While it may not be required, having a CDA communicates a commitment to the field of early childhood education. Due to it being nationally recognized, transferring to a center in another state would be simple with a CDA.   


Related: College Degrees Should Not Be Required for Childcare Workers


Who should get a CDA?


The CDA credential is a great opportunity for a beginning early childhood educator that wants to advance their career. Obtaining the credential highlights a commitment to the field of early childhood education, and communicates an understanding of developmentally appropriate practice. Furthermore, obtaining the credential will help to boost confidence; the families of CDA credentialed educators will have increased confidence and peace of mind, along with an increase in self-confidence for the educator. When educators are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills, their effectiveness in the classroom expands and everyone benefits positively.


Related: What is Developmentally Appropriate Practice?


How do I get a CDA?


The process for obtaining a CDA credential requires a lot of time and effort. Prior to applying, applicants must purchase a CDA Competency Standards book specified for the setting of their application. This book will guide the applicant through the process. They must also achieve the following:


  • Earn a high school diploma, GED, or be enrolled as a junior or senior in a high school career and technical program in early childhood education.
  • And must have 120 hours of formal early childhood education training that covers the growth and development of children in the age group setting they intend to apply for, with no fewer than 10 training hours in each of the 8 CDA subject areas.
    • Preschool setting – ages 3 to 5 years old
    • Infant/toddler setting – ages 0-36 months
    • Family child care – birth to 5 years old


  • Home visitor setting applicants must:
    • Complete 120 hours of formal early childhood education and principles of adult learning, covering the growth and development of children ages birth to 5 years, with no fewer than 10 training hours in each of the 8 Home Visitor CDA subject areas.


The 8 CDA subject areas that must be included in the formal CDA training are:

  • Planning a safe and healthy learning environment
  • Advancing children's physical and intellectual development
  • Supporting children's social and emotional development
  • Building productive relationships with families
  • Managing an effective program operation
  • Maintaining a commitment to professionalism
  • Observing and recording children's behavior
  • Understanding principles of child development and learning

8 training subject areas for a Child development associate (CDA) credential



When an applicant is ready to start their application, they can visit the Council for Professional Recognition’s website. Applicants will select the “Initial CDA Candidates” option and begin the process.


Within 6 months of applying, applicants must complete the following:


  • Prepare a CDA Professional Portfolio
  • Find a CDA Professional Development Specialist


Within 3 years of applying, applicants must complete the following:


  • Obtain 480 hours of professional work experience with the age group, and in the setting, they applied for.


After applying, applicants will take the CDA Exam at a testing center. The exam is comprised of 70 questions. 65 of the questions are multiple choice, and 5 are scenario-based questions. It must be completed in 1 hour and 45 minutes.


In addition to the exam, applicants must also complete a CDA Verification Visit. This can only be scheduled once the applicant receives a “Ready to Schedule” notification. Once it is received, the applicant must contact their CDA PD Specialist to schedule. During the visit, together they will review the Professional Portfolio, training certificates, and family questionnaires. Afterwards, the CDA PD Specialist will observe the applicant working directly with children. At the end, there will be time for reflection of the areas of strength and growth for all the materials submitted.


The CDA credential is a great opportunity for beginning early childhood educators to advance their career. The process of obtaining the credential involves many hours of training, thorough documentation, and an exam must be passed to demonstrate professional knowledge. While a CDA is not equivalent to earning a college degree, it is a well-respected and nationally recognized credential that provides educators with a stepping stone into the field of early childhood education. 


FAQ on the Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential


How long is a CDA good for?

The CDA credential is valid for 3 years.


What kind of job can I get with a CDA?

Childcare Center Teacher, Childcare Center Director, Home Visitor, In-home Childcare Provider – requirements for all job positions vary based on each state’s requirements.


Is a CDA credential an associate’s degree?

No, the CDA credential is not an associate’s degree. The CDA credential can be obtained by anyone prior to obtaining an associate’s degree.


How much does it cost to get a CDA?

It costs $500 for a paper application, and there is a discount for online applications of $75 making the cost $425. Often employers will pay for an employee to complete their CDA.


How long does it take to get a CDA?

The length of time varies, but there is 600 hours of training hours, and work experience that are required as part of the application process. Applicants must also pass an exam, compile a CDA Professional Portfolio, and complete a CDA Verification Visit.


By Crystal Teegarden

image0.jpegCrystal is a gentle parenting mama who loves reading, cooking, and exploring new trails with her husband and son. She is from Los Angeles but currently lives in Portland, OR where she is eating all the vegan food.


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