Child Care Certificate Program

The Child Care Certificate Program is a state program that assists Families First participants, parents transitioning off Families First, parents working or enrolled in post-secondary education programs, teen parents, and children in foster care. It’s also called the subsidized child care program. To participate in the program, families must be declared eligible by the Department of Human Services (TDHS) staff or by the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) staff for children in foster care.

TDHS provides financial assistance with child care costs for families meeting income guideline criteria through several child care assistance programs.

Teacher helps young children with building blocks at daycare

Eligibility Requirements

Families First participants are eligible to receive child care to assist in completing their approved activity on their Personal Responsibility Plan (PRP). Families must be determined eligible by Tennessee Department of Human Services  (TDHS) staff before they can participate in the program.

Transitional Child Care or TCC (also referred to as Transitional Families First, or TFF) is available for qualifying families for 18 months following the closure of Families First cash assistance.  Thirty hours of paid work per week, including self-employment and/or education and training hours must be met to receive TCC. Eligibility is redetermined every twelve (12) months.

The At-Risk Child Care program serves guardians in Families First child-only cases that are working and/or in school. Child-only guardians are typically grandparents, aunts, or uncles that have care and control of a relative child. Thirty hours of paid work including self-employment and/or education and training hours must be met to receive ARCO.

Smart Steps Child Care Payment Assistance is available to income eligible families who are working or enrolled in post-secondary education programs.  Smart Steps was established to provide child care financial assistance to eligible families with children ages six (6) weeks until kindergarten. The family is not required to receive other benefits through TDHS to qualify.

The Teen Parent Child Care Program serves teen parents who are enrolled in and attending high school and who meet income guidelines. Assistance may be available for eligible teens living at home with their parent(s) or those who are emancipated and living independently from their parent(s). Written or verbal communication from school staff that the school's requirements are met is adequate verification for school enrollment.

TDHS provides the child care certificate and provider payment processes as a service for the Department of Children's Services (DCS). The DCS state office provides the funding amounts and the fund utilization management for these funding sources. County and regional DCS program staff provides the child care referrals and provide the local management of regional DCS funds.

How to Apply

Apply online through the One DHS Customer Portal by clicking here.

Or complete the application below and then fax it, mail it, or bring it to your local TDHS office.

For a parent/guardian receiving child care payment assistance, should you have a question, please contact the One DHS Contact Center at 1-833-772-TDHS (8347) or via the One DHS General Inquiry webform, by clicking here.

For a parent/guardian requesting to transfer your child to a new provider, please submit information using the link here

Application for Child Care Payment Assistance/Smart Steps  (HS-3408) - Instructions
Application for Child Care Payment Assistance/Smart Steps (Spanish) (HS-3408sp) - Instructions
Application for Child Care Payment Assistance/Smart Steps (Arabic) (HS-3408a) - Instructions
Application for Child Care Payment Assistance/Smart Steps (Somali) (HS-3408s)Instructions

**Make sure you submit all required verification documents with your application. The required documents are listed on the first page of the application above**

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 link at the top of this page.

Some child care assistance requires a co-payment based on income and household size. During this contact, the applicant may also discuss eligibility for SNAP/Food Stamps,  TennCare/Medicaid, and cash assistance through Families First/TANF.


Once approved for child care payment assistance, the family may choose the type of care that best meets their needs. A Find Child Care locator is available to assist families in locating TDHS licensed or Department of Education (DOE) approved agencies. The agency must be participating or agree to participate in the Child Care  Certificate program. Parents participating in Families First Child Care, Transitional Child Care or At-Risk Child Only Child Care may choose an agency or an individual to provide care. The individual’s home must meet health and safety guidelines, pass a background check and agree to complete health and safety training before approved. The TDHS establishes reimbursement rates and pays the selected and approved provider directly.

Click here for the Child Care Payment Assistance Fact Sheet

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