Maryland health officials have consolidated all child-care licensing and regulatory services into one agency, a move they hope will increase the supply of licensed care.

The Child Care Administration, which opened last Friday, is the state's attempt to expand the supply of day care -- in centers and home-based operations -- by cutting the red tape involved in getting a child-care license.

The need for child care is especially critical in the Washington area because of the high percentage of women who work outside the home.

"We've . . . streamlined the process and, hopefully, we'll see an increase in the number of people applying for licenses," said Clarence Brown, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Human Resources. The department took over responsibility for child-care center regulations from local governments in 1988.

Before the emergence of the new agency, prospective day-care providers could spend weeks going through lengthy application processes with the state's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Department of Education and the Department of Human Resources. Each had authority over some aspect of day-care regulation and often duplicated services.

The General Assembly passed legislation in 1988 consolidating the services of these departments under Human Resources.

There are about 11,736 licensed day-care providers statewide serving 121,000 preschool children in homes. About 1,372 licensed centers care for approximately 67,000 children.

Brown said consolidating child care licensing authority also is crucial to providing stronger enforcement of state day-care laws.

"You'll now have one regulatory agency that will deal with all the complaints, appeals and other problems for the entire state," Brown said. "Our enforcement authority is enhanced because it is all being coordinated under one roof."

The new department is operating under a $40 million annual budget with 171 employees in its Baltimore headquarters and in 12 regional offices scattered throughout the state.

The Child Care Administration has five sections: The Office of Program Standards, which handles enforcement, complaints and appeals; the Office of Program Support, where all prospective day-care providers receive training and other state services before becoming licensed; the Office of Licensing, where licenses are issued; the Office of Administration and Management; and the Office of Program Development, which regulates child care subsidy programs.

"We're trying to foster the development of a statewide child-care system," Brown said. "Some people may have wanted to be a licensed day-care provider, but didn't know how to become one or were overwhelmed by the process."