Have you ever thought about earning your CDA Credential?  Some may think that just because they don’t have a college degree that they won’t be able to obtain a CDA.  While the process does require a commitment of time and effort, it is achievable for most teachers.

Let’s get started with some of the basics:

  • what organization awards the CDA
  • how a candidate identifies their setting (center-based for infants/toddlers or center-based for preschoolers, a home visitor setting, or family child care)


What does CDA stand for?

CDA stands for Child Development Associate.  The CDA Credential is awarded to child care staff, home visitors and family child care providers who have demonstrated their skill in working with young children and their families by successfully completing the CDA assessment process.

The process involves focused training designed to better prepare teachers to meet the specific needs of children and, with parents and other adults, works to nurture children’s physical, social, emotional, and intellectual growth in the child development framework.  


Is it a new designation?

The concept was initiated in 1971, and the first CDA Credentials were awarded in 1975.  The total number of caregivers who have obtained their CDA credentials since that time is in excess of 400,000, and virtually every one of the 50 states have incorporated the credentials into their licensing regulations.  It is exceptional training in one of the most exciting and challenging careers possible today.

And it is proof that a teacher has stepped beyond the everyday activities of working with students and has reached, through their own efforts, a milestone of proficiency in their chosen field.  In other words, it is a goal for anyone wanting to provide and guarantee the level of child care that parents and teachers so desperately want and children deserve.

This is a national effort and increasingly, licensing agencies, local and state agencies, leaders in the field of child education, and both parents and teachers are recognizing the critical need for well-trained teachers.

The designation of Child Development Associate is rapidly being recognized as an outstanding example of someone with significant experience and training in child care. 


Is becoming a CDA possible for most teachers?

Absolutely!  Becoming a CDA is a process that you work at, learn, and nurture until it grows from within.  It is a process by which you grow as an individual and as a professional.  There are several aspects of this process you should consider carefully as you make your decision:

  • determining your eligibility
  • selecting your setting
  • identifying or completing the necessary requirements and collecting the necessary documentation

Once this documentation is complete, you can apply to the Council for Professional Recognition.  You will proceed through a specific process designed to guide and gauge your knowledge and experience.


Who awards the CDA?

The Council for Professional Recognition, headquartered in Washington, D.C., manages the Child Development Associate (CDA) National Credentialing program.  They designed the program to provide performance-based training, assessment, and credentialing that focused on the skills of early child care and education professionals. 

The program represents a national effort to credential qualified caregivers for the task of working with children from birth through age five in various CDA settings, ensuring that they have demonstrated competence in meeting the CDA Competency Standards which we will discuss later in the class.


What are the CDA Settings?

There are 3 settings in which you may earn a CDA Credential:

• Center-Based 

• Family Child Care

• Home Visitor 

Within the Center-Based setting, there are two separate categories in which you may earn your credential:  Infant/Toddler or Preschool.  In all of the settings one may earn a bilingual specialization with their credential. 


The Center-based settings are state-approved centers where one can be observed working as a primary caregiver for children.  The center must have at least 10 children enrolled in the overall program and at least 2 caregivers working with the children on a regular basis. 

There are two options for those working in a Center.

  1. Center Infant/Toddler Setting - Those caregivers who work with infants and/or toddlers (birth-36 months) should seek an Infant/Toddler endorsement.  These are separate programs and one credential cannot be substituted for the other.  A candidate for this credential must be able to be observed working with at least three (3) children under the age of 3 in the center setting.
  2. Center Preschool Setting - Caregivers working with preschool children (ages 3-5) should seek a Preschool endorsement. A candidate for this credential must be able to be observed working with at least eight (8) children, ages 3 through 5, in the center setting.

Family Child Care

The Family Child Care setting is a family child care home that meets the minimum level of applicable state and local regulations, at the very least.

Caregivers must be able to be observed working as the primary caregiver for at least 2 children under the age of 6 not related to the caregiver by blood, marriage or any other legal relationship.

Home Visitor

The Home Visitor setting is a program established to provide home visits to families with children under the age of 6.

Regular home visits are designed to provide parents with support in meeting the needs of young children and they are the primary method of delivering this support.

Bilingual Specialization

A caregiver may also earn a CDA Credential with a Bilingual Specialization.  This is for caregivers who work in a setting that is bilingual and is an extension of an existing credential that acknowledges the unique skills required of those who work in such settings.  Bilingual settings must have specific goals for achieving bilingual development in children. 

Two languages must consistently be used in regular activities and parents must be helped to understand the goals and to support and assist the children’s bilingual development.  While materials for this specialization only exist in Spanish, caregivers who work in settings that use other languages may contact the Council for more information.

Note:  A special education child development setting can also qualify as an eligible setting providing it meets the above criteria as well. 


Can I be credentialed in more than one setting?

A second credential can be awarded to an individual who holds one credential and wishes to obtain a second credential.

You may apply for one credential setting at a time. When applying for another credential, you must complete another application and assessment process.


What are the CDA Competency Standards?

The CDA Competency Standards are the core of the program. They are composed of both goals and functional areas that state the necessary skills of a competent caregiver. They provide the basis by which all caregivers will be assessed.

The six Competency Goals provide the general framework of the caregiver’s commitment.  The 13 functional areas provide the specific areas in which major tasks and functions of the caregiver will be assessed in order to insure that the goals are met.

While the 6 competency goals are the same for all settings, the 13 functional areas are governed by child developmental principles and the performance definitions and sample behaviors in these areas may differ according to the setting and age group.

The CDA Council provides Competency Standards Books for each of the child care settings. These may be ordered online from their website: www.cdacouncil.or

The Six Competency 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 responsive to participant needs
  6. To maintain a commitment to professionalism


How will I be Assessed? The CDA Assessment System

All candidates for CDA Credential are assessed by a Professional Development Specialist.  The process for the assessment depends upon the setting.  The Home Visitor assessment differs from the single assessment process used for both Family Child Care and Center settings.

The assessment process 1) considers whether an individual satisfies certain basic requirements and 2) evaluates required documentation of the individual’s competence in early child care and education.  The following charts briefly identify these requirements.

Center-Based and Family Child Care - Basic Requirements

  • Hold a high school diploma or equivalent, or are a junior of senior in a high school career/technical program in early childhood education
  • Have 480 hours of experience working with children within the past three years
  • Have 120 clock hours of applicable formal child care education
  • Documentation of Competence
  • A Professional Portfolio
  • Family Questionnaires
  • Verification visit with your Professional Development Specialist
  • CDA Exam

Bilingual Candidates must meet these requirements and be able to speak, read and write well enough in both English and another language to understand and be understood by both children and adults.


Earning your Credentials can be a rigorous but rewarding journey.  Watch this inspiring video about several teachers’ experience with the CDA.  So, give your knowledge and your career a boost by earning your CDA Credential!