Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential

The CDA is a national credential that is awarded by the Council on Professional Recognition.  It is based on achieving 13 functional competencies. The application components are:

  • 480 documented hours working with young children within the last three years
  • 120 hours of documented training hours covering 8 CDA subject areas (10 hours at least in each area).  These can be for college credit or not.
  • A professional portfolio that includes a resource collection, statements of competency and a professional philosophy
  • Completed family questionnaires
  • Observation of the CDA candidate
  • A verification visit by a CDA professional Development Specialist who will  review the portfolio, training documentation, family questionnaires, as well as observe the CDA candidate, and lead a reflective dialogue/interview with the candidate
  • CDA exam to be taken at a Pearson Vue Testing Center (VT-Newport, Saint Johnsbury, South Burlington, Swanton, NH- Concord)
  • A completed application and payment of the application fee.

Complete details about the CDA process and the application are in The CDA Competency Standards resource books ($25 )

The initial credential is for 3 years and it must be renewed every 3 years after that.

If you earn your CDA Credential you should apply for an Northern Lights early childhood Level II certificate.

In June 2013 the Council moved to CDA 2.0 .   The changes streamlined the process, increased the rigor to obtain it, and changed the role of the CDA advisor who assesses the candidate.  Here are links to documents about this transition and the changes in the CDA

1. What is the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential?

The CDA is a national credential awarded to early childhood professionals who have shown they have met the beginning level competencies needed for working with young children. It is a significant accomplishment and an option for starting a successful career in early childhood education.

The CDA credential is administered by the Council for Professional Recognition in Washington, D.C. They are the source for information about the credential, the application and how to earn it. No college or higher education institution can award you the CDA credential.

The CDA is often confused with an Associate Degree, due to their similar names, but they are different. CDA credential is defined as: “A Child Development Associate (CDA) is an individual who has successfully completed a CDA assessment and has been awarded the CDA Credential…. A CDA would also demonstrate competence in her/his ability to meet the CDA Competency Goals through her/his work in a center-based, home visitor or family child care program.” – Council for Professional Recognition

To date, there are more than 150,000 CDAs across the country—in all 50 states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the U.S. territories of Guam and the Virgin Islands. The training, experience and support you need to complete the credential can all be done in Vermont. There are many resources and supports here that can help you get a CDA credential. Remember, because CDA is a national credential, there is no “Vermont CDA”. You can only receive the CDA credential from the Council for Professional Recognition.

There are three types of CDA credentials, based on the setting where you work: 1) family child care, 2) home visitors, and 3) center based setting with an endorsement either for ages birth to 36 months or ages 3 to 5 years. Bilingual endorsements are available for all of the settings.

2. Why would I want to get a CDA credential?
  • As a stepping stone to other professional development and career steps in the field of early childhood development
  • To gain a sense of professionalism and be nationally recognized as an early childhood professional
  • To earn points in Vermont’s quality program rating system: STARS (StepAhead Recognition System) in the staff qualifications arena.
  • To reach Level II in Vermont’s Northern Lights professional development career ladder.
  • To get a Certificate to display on the wall so your co-workers and the families in your program recognize your professionalism and commitment to the field.
  • It may be a requirement of your employer. (VT Child Care Licensing Regulations, Head Start, NAEYC accredited programs and others may require this credential for employment)
  • The Child Development Division offers financial help for the CDA credential application fee, and when you earn the credential and a Level II certificate, you may be awarded a Recognition Bonus.  The Child Development Division also awards a smaller Recognition Bonus the first time you renew your CDA Credential.   NOTE: If you have successfully completed a number of college courses, an Associate degree or other college degree in early childhood, then the CDA credential may or may not be the credential for you. Instead, consider other college coursework, degrees or specialty credentials. (see the Northern Lights Career Advising Guide for more information)
3. How do I know if I am ready to earn this credential?
  • You have to be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED
  • You are committed to early childhood education and are ready to take the time to complete this credential process
  • You looked at the website: and know something about what this credential involves
  • You have already taken professional development workshops and have certificates or other documentation proving your attendance
  • You have experience in the field and believe you have a working knowledge of child development and what an early childhood professional needs to know
  • You have identified some people and resources who can help you through the process
  • You have the time. CDA credential candidates take from 6 months to more than a year to complete the application process.
4. Where do I start?

Start by knowing where you are going. Reading this document about the CDA credential is a good place to begin.
Completing the CDA credential application requires:

  • a. Experience: 480 hours of childcare experience over the last five years (the hours can be paid or volunteer) in the setting for which you are applying (home visiting, family child care, or center-based child care)
  • b. Professional Training: 120 documented training hours, with 10 or more hours in each of 8 CDA subject areas (see number 5 below)
  • c. Written work: An philosophy statement, brief competency statements and aresource collection
  • d. Observation: Documented observation of you working with children by a qualified CDA Professional Development Specialist
  •  Family Input: Completed surveys

At the end of this document is a list of resources to help you with all of these steps. When you have completed these steps, you are ready to apply to the Council for the CDA credential assessment by Professional Development Specialist.   The Specialist will evaluate you based on the type of CDA credential for which you are applying.

  1. First talk to your supervisor or your regional Resource Advisor (see the resources link at the end of this document) They may know local resource people to guide you in the process, and can connect you to the professional development you may need.
  2. Next Go to the Council website and purchase the materials for the type of CDA credential that fits your work setting. NOTE: The Council also offers a Second Setting CDA Credential for CDAs who hold one credential and want a second credential in a different setting.
  3. Then Look at the workshops, classes etc. you have attended and the documentation you have of them. Start collecting documentation of your attendance, if you haven’t done so yet. (NOTE: The CDA credential application does not accept conference attendance towards the 120 hours.) Once you have at least 80 hours of documented training time, then it is a good time to start organizing what you have taken into the eight subject areas – to see what else you may need. You are also ready to start working on your portfolio. (see resources links at the end of this document)

Do you know about the Vermont Bright Futures Information System (BFIS)? If you have worked in a Vermont child care program you likely have a BFIS Quality and Credential ID – even if you don’t know it! This part of BFIS includes an individual resume. If you have taken workshops offered by your regional Resource and Referral agency in the past year or so, they will be already listed in your individual resume in BFIS, and can serve as documentation. To learn more see: Bright Futures Information System.

Keep in mind the application will require you to do some writing. If you think you might need extra help with writing, the resources at the end of this document can help you. Also see if you have an instructor or friend who is a good writer and proofreader, who will agree to review what you write.

Also keep in mind as part of your CDA credential you will need to be aware of professional organizations. (If you renew your CDA credential you will need to be a member of a professional organization.) See the Resources link at the bottom of this document for some professional organizations to consider.

5. How do I get the required 120 hours of training?

The Council defines the eight subject areas that need to be covered by the professional development you have attended. You will need documentation that at least 10 hours (of the required 120) were taken in each of these areas

    • Planning a safe, healthy environment to invite learning;
    • 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; and;
    • Principles of child development and learning.

What have you already attended? Documented professional development (workshops, etc. with the content and hours of each listed) that you have taken over the last five years can be used for your CDA credential training requirements.

NOTE: You do NOT need to take college courses to get your first CDA credential. If you choose to take a college course, it can count towards your CDA credential if you can document that the content covers one or more of the eight subject areas. Remember, the Council for Professional Recognition does not accept conference attendance towards the 120 hours.

Resource Development Specialists in your region offer free or low cost professional development. Workshops and trainings (see resource list below) at your local Community Child Care Support Agency. They will also give you professional development documentation forms with the CDA credential subject areas checked off. This is great documentation for your CDA credential application! The resource specialists offer the Fundamentals courses (workshop series) and Level II workshop series which align with both the CDA credential requirements and the Northern Lights Career ladder.

Look on the Bright Futures Information System calendar. You can search for Vermont and near by New Hampshire workshops and classes by date, region or by subject area.

6. How do I create the required portfolio?

Look on the website and get the CDA credential booklet from the Council for Professional Recognition and read it carefully. It will detail what you need to include.

The Fundamentals class  and other workshops can help you get started on the required CDA credential application components. The RESOURCES section at the bottom of this document has tools you can use and ideas to help you find a mentor to guide you through the process.
There is help! Ask the Resource Advisor in your region, or your supervisor for the closest CDA credential mentor or support program. Your workplace may also offer CDA credential support.

7. Who is a Professional Development Specialist and where do I get one?

The Council for Professional Recognition maintains the list of Professional Development Specialists around the country.  These Specialists have been approved by the Council.  To ensure there is not conflict of interest with the CDA candidate they-

  • May not work as co-teacher with the candidate on a daily basis in the same room or group.
  • May not be the relative of a child in the candidate’s care at any time during the assessment process.
  • May not be related by blood or marriage or other legal relationship to the candidate.

Look on the Council website ( for more information.

8. Is there an application fee or other charges? Can I get help to pay for it?

There are different costs for the CDA credential:

  1. The first fee is for the application packet. This is typically $25 plus postage. You will need to buy the application packet from the Council for Professional Recognition  The application packet includes the books you and your CDA advisor will use to guide and document the components of your application. Your employer may support your application fees. Talk to your supervisor about any help they may be able to provide.
  2. Once you have received your application packet and have completed all of the CDA requirements you are ready to submit your application. The Council for Professional Recognition charges an assessment fee of $325 (increasing in 2013) that you will need to send with your completed application.
  3. If you are renewing your CDA, you will also need to pay dues to join a professional organization (see the resource list below for ideas of professional organizations you can join). Remember, these fees are also tax deductible. (Also, your employer may be willing to support these fees.)

Some financial help!

If you work in a regulated child care program in Vermont, the Vermont Child Development Division has a grant to help pay the CDA assessment fee. To be eligible you must have completed the application packet and be ready to submit your application to the Council for Professional Recognition. For more information please visit    After receiving your CDA credential, you may be eligible for a bonus from Vermont’s Child Development Division. First you need to apply and recieve a Level II certificate from Northern Lights.  We will pass your application on to the Child Development Division to determine if you are  eligible for a  Recognition Bonus.   For more information about the Recognition bonus or grant to pay for the CDA Assessment fee, visit or contact Lynne Robbins at the Child Development Division: 802-241-0823 or 1-800 649-2642.

9. Does the CDA credential expire? Yes!

A CDA Credential is valid for three years from the award date, after which it may be renewed in three-year increments. The purpose of the CDA credential renewal is to make sure that Child Development Associates are maintaining current knowledge and skills in their work with young children and families.  The VT Child Development Divison  gives a one time bonus for the first CDA renewal; you also need to apply for and recieve a Level II certificate from Northern Lights if you don’t already have one.  For more information about the Recgnition bonus, visit or contact Lynne Robbins at the Child Development Division: 802-769-6160 or 1-800 649-2642.   All CDA Renewal Candidates must meet the following five criteria:

– Documentation of a current Red Cross or other agency First Aid Certificate.
– Documentation of at least 4.5 Continuing Education Units (CEUs) or a three-credit-hour course beyond the original 120 clock hours.
– Documentation of at least 80 hours of work experience with young children or families of young children in the past year
– A letter of recommendation from an early childhood professional
– Documentation of current membership in a national or local early childhood professional organization.


Again, go to the website of the Council for Professional Recognition to learn all about it. Some advice:

  • Don’t wait!  You will need to completed training or coursework  – before the three years are up!
  • Continue to provide care to young children during the renewal period. If you change jobs and are no longer working with children, you will not be able to renew your CDA credential.
  • You need to join a professional, dues paying, membership organization. The Resource Section at the end of this document, lists some you can join.
  • You will need a letter of verification, written by a professional stating that you are maintaining the same level of professionalism and care as when originally got your CDA credential. This should be written by someone who has recently observed you working with children. You can ask your supervisor, your regional Resource Development Specialist, or a CDA credential mentor or support person (see Resources section below) to write it for you.
  • Send in the required materials to the Council for Professional Recognition by the deadline.
10. Where can I go for help? (this section will continue to be updated!)
Resources for CDA Credential Candidates and Mentors

  • The Council for Professional Recognition: Phone: 1-800 424-4310 or They award the credential and have the information you need.
  • Your regional Resource Advisor can help CDA credential candidates in their region.
  • State wide professional organizations can also provide mentors.  In addition in your initial application for a CDA credential you will need to know about these organizations.  Before you renew your CDA credential you will need a certificate or membership card from a dues paying, professional membership organization. On this page is a list of  VT and National professional organizations you might consider joining.
  • Vermont Adult learning/Learning Works Learning Works is a statewide network of learning centers that provides adults free basic skills instruction in reading, writing, math, computers and more. They can help you with the writing required for your CDA credential application, when it is tied to job skills and employment.