Child Care

This page contains resources for both parents and child care providers related to services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read on for more information that may fit your needs, including answers to frequently asked questions.

Child Care Services plans, implements, and coordinates activities and programs to ensure quality, and the health and safety of children in licensed care.  Child Care Services includes Child and Adult Care Licensing, Child Care Payment Assistance (Smart Steps and the Child Care Certificate Program), Child Care Assessment and other partner programs.

2021 Pandemic/Essential Employee Child Care Payment Assistance

2021 Pandemic/Essential Employee Child Care Payment Assistance is designed to help support essential workers so they can stay on the job during the COVID-19 emergency.  

The Tennessee Department of Human Services will be receiving additional federal funds to support 2021 Pandemic/Essential Employee Child Care Payment Assistance.  The Department will continue to accept applications for 2021 Pandemic/Essential Employee Child Care Payment Assistance up to 11:59 PM central time on April 30, 2021 to allow a window of opportunity for potentially eligible families to apply.  After April 30, 2021, those who applied and were determined eligible as of April 30, 2021 and those who were already enrolled and participating will continue to receive support through August 31, 2021. Parents who are already approved for this payment assistance will not be required to take any additional action. They do not need to reapply.

Through payment assistance and a network of temporary care locations, parents who work in specific occupations can have support accessing child care until August  31, 2021. This Child Care Payment Assistance Program makes payments directly to the child care provider.  Families can access this benefit at child care programs who are licensed by the Department of Human Services or regulated by the Department of Education and are participating in the Child Care Certificate Program.  The Department of Human Services will facilitate participation for providers not currently in the program. 

To be eligible for the program, parents must be employees of a healthcare entity, law enforcement, first responders (EMS, Fire Departments, etc.), corrections officers, military, activated national guard, human and social services workers, postal workers, transportation employees, restaurant workers or grocery workers. 

Click here for a list of eligible employee categories.

Important Update about New Applications for 2021 Pandemic Child Care Payment Assistance: Note that as of January 1, 2021, for new applications, the eligibility period for Pandemic/Essential Employee Child Care Payment Assistance will begin on the date the completed application with all required verifications is received by the Department. This is the same policy utilized with all other Child Care Payment Assistance Programs administered by the Department. 

PLEASE NOTE: If you have already submitted an application for COVID-19 Pandemic Child Care Assistance, and have received a “no information found” message when calling the Child Care Hotline, do not submit a new application. Instead, contact the Child Care Payment Assistance Customer Service Team at for an update on your application.

After enrollment in the program, TDHS will make arrangements to pay for child care at the TDHS licensed or DOE regulated program where the child is served.  

TDHS is partnering with the YMCA and the Boys & Girls Clubs in Tennessee to establish free child care for school-aged children.  Through this partnership, the YMCA and Boys and Girls Clubs have established a network of temporary/emergency child care locations across the state. Eligible workers with school aged children who need care will be able to register at these locations and access care at no charge during the COVID-19 state of emergency.

More Resources for Parents During COVID-19

DHS wants to support parents who are employed in essential services and need child care.  Many licensed child care providers across Tennessee remain open and have the capacity to care for children of essential workers.  You may click on the button below for a directory to see what licensed child care providers are able to serve children in your community.  The information is organized by county. See the FAQ for details on adjustments made to services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Who is eligible?

  • Parents applying for the Smart Steps program whose income is below the 85th percentile of State Median Income who have children six (6) weeks to five (5) years old and who work or go to school, or both, for 30 hours or more a week.
  • High school or middle school mothers who stay in school who participate in the Teen Parent program.
  • Parents in the Families First program who need child care to complete the work activities in their personal responsibility plan.
  • Parents whose Families First case has closed can receive transitional child care assistance for 18 months after their Families First case closes IF each parent works 30 hours or more a week.
  • Non-parental guardians in the Families First program who need child care for a related child IF the guardian does 30 or more hours of work, training, or education a week.

If you are applying for child care payment assistant through Families First, you will not use the above application but will apply through the Families First Program by clicking here.

Resources for Existing Licensed Child Care Providers

Now, as always, child care providers play a critical role in their communities, particularly for parents who work in the health care industry or other essential roles. Each child care provider must make the decision whether to be open or closed, based on their unique situation and the needs in their community.

Click here for guidance on reopening or maintaining operations at your child care agency.


The Child Care Services Team provides daily updates and guidance to licensed providers. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are there specific COVID-19 recommendations for child care providers I should be aware of during this time?

Yes, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) offers recommendations for child care providers coping with COVID-19. In selecting care for your child, you should consider if the provider is conscious and compliant with these recommendations. Below is a brief summary of the CDC’s recommendations and a link to the comprehensive list. A full list of recommendations can be viewed when you Click Here. We routinely provide updates and guidance to licensed and emergency child care providers across the state. Updates can be found by clicking here.

2. Is there a directory for finding child care providers during COVID-19?

Yes, families looking for child care services during this time can Click Here to located available caregivers.

3. Can families still apply for the Child Care Payment Assistance Programs like Smart Steps?

Yes, qualifying parents can apply online to receive childcare payment assistance.  For information about qualifications or to apply online Click Here.

4. How can I submit a new application or verification for child care assistance?

You may apply for child care payment assistance or submit verifications online Click Here.

5. How can I make an appointment to speak with a DHS representative regarding my child care payment assistance case?

To speak with a DHS representative about your case, contact your local DHS office. Click Here for contact information.  

6. How can families renew their child care certificate or make case changes?

We have extended eligibility timeframes for all families who are currently enrolled in the Child Care Certificate Program and have expiring certificates for the period of March through December. Redeterminations of eligibility will resume in January and you will be contacted about renewal of your child care payment assistance. The Department is notifying families based on a specific schedule. Should you have any questions, you may contact the Child Care Customer Service Response team at 1-833-740-1440.