Child Development Associate (CDA)

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Also, read about The CUNY School of Professional Studies' Credit-Bearing CDA Certificate


A Child Development Associate (CDA) is:

  • A qualified caregiver that works with children from birth to age 5
  • Able to meet the specific needs of children
  • Works with parents and other adults to nurture children’s physical, social, emotional, and intellectual growth in a child development framework
  • Evaluated using the CDA Competency Standards: 6 Competency Goals and 13 Functional Areas.


To begin the CDA process, the qualified applicant must:

  • Be 18 years or older
  • Have a high school diploma or equivalent (GED)

The CDA process is based upon 3 parts:


  • Complete 480 hours (about 1 year full time) of experience working with children within the past 5 years
  • Complete 120 clock hours of formal education/training/coursework
    • All training must have occurred within 5 years of the application date
    • Training can be completed at one institution/agency or through a combination of sources. (i.e. technical college, CCR&Rs, workshops, colleges, etc.)
    • Training must fit into 8 specific content areas, with at least 10 hours in each areas:
      • Planning a safe, healthy, learning environment.
      • Steps to advance children’s physical and intellectual development.
      • Positive ways to support children’s social and emotional development.
      • Strategies to establish productive relationships with families.
      • Strategies to manage an effective program operation.
      • Maintaining a commitment to professionalism.
      • Observing and recording children’s behavior.
      • Principles of child growth and development.
    • Contact our Career Center to get help finding a CDA program in your area!


  • Assessment is done through a combination of observation, parent opinion questionnaires, and written and oral evaluation.


  • Upon recommendation of the Local Assessment Team, the CDA National Credentialing Program will either award the credential or invite the applicant to reapply for assessment.
  • A CDA credential is valid for 3 years after the initial award, and for 5 years after that.

The CDA Process Checklist

Once the 120 hours of formal education/training have been completed:

_____ Order a CDA packet in either Infant/Toddler, Preschool, or Family childcare specialization track.

  • Packets in Spanish are available
  • Packets can be purchased through:
    • The Council for Professional Recognition
      2460 16th Street NW
      Washington DC 20009
  • Packet Price: $15.00 plus $5.00 for shipping = $20.00 (renewal price $10.00 plus $5.00shipping = $15.00)
    • Be sure to include which specialization selected - Infant/Toddler, Preschool, or Family child care
  • Call: 1-800-424-4310 for credit card orders or fax your request to 202-462-6184. Fees subject to change.

_____ Secure an advisor

  • Advisor information is listed in CDA packet, or call: 1-800-424-4310, for a list of advisors in your area
  • The advisor will observe candidate (with children) for a minimum of 2 hours and give feedback for 1 hour
  • Advisor visit(s) need to be completed within 6 months of applying for assessment

_____ Complete Professional Resource File
(instructions in CDA packet)

_____ Hand out parent questionnaires (in CDA packet) to the parents of the children in candidate’s care

_____ Apply for assessment (in CDA packet)

  • The assessment fee is $325.00

_____ Wait to hear from the National Representative (30-120 days)

  • S/he will make an appointment to give a written test and oral interview
  • S/he will collect:
    • A copy of competency goal statements and autobiography (from Professional Resource File)
    • Completed parent questionnaires
    • Assessment booklet completed by your advisor
  • S/he will review candidate’s Professional Resource File
  • S/he will send all results to The Council for Professional Recognition

_____ The Council will review the information and decide whether to issue the CDA credential
(This process can take from 30-90 days)

For more information visit:The CDA Council for Professional Recognition

Or fax 202-265-9161

CDA Competency Goals & Functional Areas

  • The CDA Competency Standards are the core of the CDA program.
  • They are statements of the skills needed to be a knowledgeable caregiver and the basis upon which caregivers are assessed.
  • The Competency Goals establish the framework for caregiver behavior.
  • The 13 Functional Areas describe the major tasks or functions caregivers must complete in order to carry out the Competency Goals.
CDA Competency Goals & Functional Areas

Goal 1

To establish and maintain a safe,
healthy learning environment

1. Safety to prevent and reduce injuries

2. Good health and nutrition provide an environment that contributes to the prevention of illness

3. Use space, relationships, materials, and routines as resources for constructing an interesting, secure, and enjoyable environment that encourages play, exploration and learning.

Goal 2

To advance physical
and intellectual competence

4. Provide a variety of equipment, activities, and opportunities to promote the physical development of children.

5. Provide activities and opportunities that encourage curiosity, exploration, and problem solving appropriate to the developmental levels and learning styles of children.

6. Actively communicate with children and provide opportunities and support for children to understand, acquire, and use verbal and nonverbal means of communicating thoughts and feelings.

7. Provide opportunities that stimulate children to play with sound, rhythm, language, materials, space and ideas in individual ways, and to express their creative abilities.

Goal 3

To support social and emotional development and to provide positive guidance

8. Provide physical and emotional security for each child and help each child to know, accept and take pride in himself or herself and to develop a sense of independence.

9. Help each child feel accepted in the group, help children learn to communicate and get along with others, and encourage feelings of empathy and mutual respect among children and adults.

10. Provide a supportive environment in which children can begin to learn and practice appropriate and acceptable behaviors as individuals and as a group.

Goal 4

To establish positive and productive relationships
with families

11.Maintain an open, friendly, and cooperative relationship with each child’s family, encourage their involvement in the program, and support the child’s relationship with his or her family.

Goal 5

To ensure a well-run, purposeful program responsive to participant needs

12. Competent organizer, planner, record keeper, communicator, a cooperative co-worker, and use all available resources to ensure an effective operation.

Goal 6

To maintain a commitment to professionalism

13. Make decisions based on knowledge of early childhood theories and practices, promote quality in child care services, and take advantage of opportunities to improve competence, both for personal and professional growth and for the benefit of children and families.