There are many decisions that parents must make regarding their children. Of all the decisions, the choice for child care is one of the most important. A child care provider does not only cares for your child, but also helps shape them, teach them, and guide them through some of the most critical years of their brain and physical development. For many families, staying home with their children is not an option. Many parents need to work, and therefore it is necessary to find a suitable child care provider.
Start Your Search Early
There are many things you need to take into consideration before choosing a child care provider, and you have to do your research to ensure you find a provider you can trust. Start your search for child care early to allow time to make the best and most informed choice for you and your family. In addition, high-quality child care providers are in high demand and may have waiting lists that are months or even years long. If possible, you may want to look for a provider long before your anticipated time of need. Most providers have a limited number of slots available for children, and they fill up quickly. If you are considering the possibility of using a specific child care provider with a waiting list, you may still want to put your name on their waiting list in the event you want to enroll at a later date. You are not obligated to use the provider, but you will be notified if a space becomes available.
Types of Child Care
There are several types of child care available to choose from, which include:
- In-Home (Your Home) Child Care Provider
- In-Home Child Care Provider (In the provider’s home)
- Child Care Center and/or Preschool
- Family, Friend or Neighbor Provided Child Care (Unregulated)
Choosing child care is a very personal choice and only parents know the type of child care that best fits their family’s needs.
What to Look For in a Quality Child Care Provider
Parents need to be sure that the child care provider they choose for their child will provide the high quality care they require. Some criteria to look for when choosing a child care provider are:
- Rules and Regulations – Does the program meet the state and lawful requirements to be a licensed child care center or certified family child care home? Most states do not require family, friend or neighbor caregivers to be licensed or certified. Check your state requirements before choosing a child care program. You can search online using the words “child care requirements in (your state)”.
- Professionalism – What is the education and training level of the staff, and do they conduct themselves in a professional, yet caring and responsive manner?
- Supervision – Children must be supervised at all times to ensure their health and safety.
- Respect – The provider must be mindful of treating all children and parents equally and respectfully. Also, parents must be respectful of all staff and children in the program.
- Safety – The facility must comply with safety requirements to ensure that the children are injured while in their care.
- Attention – There must be enough adults to properly supervise the number of children of each age and provide a positive and responsive environment where children can thrive.
- Learning – Provides plenty of opportunities for children to learn and participate in activities that are appropriate for their age while in attendance.
- Stability – Is there a lot of staff turnover in the program or has the staff been employed for an extended length of time.
- Activities – Provides enough activities to stimulate and support their social, emotional, physical and intellectual development.
- Credentials and Reputation – The program is supported and accredited through a national or local agency or association.
- Communication – Program staff and managers communicate with parents to ensure that any issues are resolved. Parents are encouraged to share information about their child with staff.
- Child Development – The program provides opportunities for the children to gain new concepts and skills to adequately prepare them for kindergarten and beyond. The most important skill is social and emotional readiness for school.
Adult to Child Ratios
It is important that there are enough adults to properly care and support the number of children in each age group. In licensed or certified child care programs, federal or state laws may apply. The ratio of adults to children present depends on the age and needs of the children. If no other laws, rules or regulations are in place, consider this recommendation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) as a guideline:
- Newborn to 2 Years Old – 1 Adult per 3 Children
- Age 2 – 3 Years Old – 1 Adult per 4 Children
- Preschool Age– 1 Adult per 8 Children
- School Age – 1 Adult per 9 -11 Children
Special situations call for different requirements. For example, when the children go on a fieldtrip or outing, there needs to be additional adult supervision. When visiting a water park or swimming pool, more adults are required. Adult supervision refers to caregivers who are at least age 18. Younger caregivers are often on staff, but may not have enough training or experience to provide adequate care.
Child care facilities may be accredited through local, state or national organizations. National accreditation may be made through the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) https://www.naeyc.org or The National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC) http://www.nafcc.org, the two largest national organizations. One of the advantages of accreditation is that providers must meet certain set standards and criteria above and beyond state licensing or certification requirements.
State Licensing or Certification
The licensing or certification of child care providers is usually done on the state level, usually through the Department of Welfare and Children’s Services or similar government agency. Licensing or certification is typically renewed yearly. The requirements for individual state licensing or certification may vary, so you should check your state’s government website for specific details by searching “child care licensing requirements in (your state)”. Licensing or certification often requires a visit by a government agent to review the facility, interview the provider, and evaluate the location. Keep in mind, licensing and certification requirements vastly vary in most states and that it may not be unlawful to care for four or less children for compensation without a license or certificate.
The qualifications of the staff or caregiver consist primarily of their education, training, and experience. Check to see if the provider has a degree in early childhood education or a related degree such as child development, psychology, human development or social work. Higher education is a key indicator of high-quality child care and better outcomes for young children. State licensing or certification often requires staff to attend professional development workshops on an annual basis and to update their CPR/First Aid certifications. Look for staff members who are properly educated and trained with several years of experience working with young children.
Finding Child Care Providers
There are a number of different places you can go to locate child care providers. Some of the best places to find child care include:
- Your Local Child Care Resource & Referral Agency
- Child Care Aware of America
- National Head Start Association
- Referrals from family or friends you can trust
To find your local Child Care Resource & Referral agency or for additional resources to make an informed choice, please visit http://usa.childcareaware.org/families-programs/resources/state-by-state-resources/.To find an accredited child care program, you can visit the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) website to search for a list of accredited providers in your area. The National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC) also allows you to search for accredited family child care providers.
Once you have a list of local child care providers, you are encouraged to visit at least three programs before making a decision. You are also encouraged to use a “Quality Child Care Checklist” of questions to ask and things to look for when you visit each program to help you measure the quality. Ask the provider for references, and to see their license or certificate to operate. Plan to spend some time at each program to observe adult and children interactions, and visit the program with your child if possible. It is important to see how your child will interact with the other children. Your child’s response to the children and adults in the program can also be a key indication if the program is right for your child.
Here are some sample questions to ask during the visit and interview:
- What are the days, times and hours of operation?
- Are nutritious meals and snacks served? What is the schedule for meals, snacks and activities (a typical day)?
- How do staff support children with problem solving or conflict management? How is discipline handled?
- How many staff members do you have and what is their education and training?
- Do you have a policy and procedure for sick children? What do you do to ensure the health of children in the program?
- Do you dispense medication if needed? If yes, what is your policy and procedures for administering medication?
- Do children have an opportunity to play outside, and how often? Is the outdoor play area free of debris, trash, and have enough equipment for the children to play on? Is your facility accredited or do you participate in your state’s star rating and/or quality improvement system?
- What is your emergency and disaster preparedness plan? Can I have a copy?
- Is there always a staff member with CPR and First Aid training present?
- Do you have a pass-key entry or video monitoring? Do children take naps? If so, where and for how long?
- Are there specialized programs for each age group?
- How are field trips or outings supervised?
- How do you ensure proper drop off and pickup?
- What are your rates and how is payment made?
- Is payment required for vacations or sick time?
- How much notice is required to end the contract?
- Can you provide me with references that I can call?
You should visit the facility when children are present. This gives you the opportunity to observe how situations are handled. You can also talk to other parents, if they are present, and find out more about what they think of the provider and their approach. Note whether the facility is clean and tidy, and how well the children are supervised. Notice how well the kids are cared for and whether there is enough structure for each age group. Do children appear to be happy and engaged in the activities? In general, the children should be enjoying themselves and the adults should be supporting their growth and learning in a positive, respectful and responsive manner.
When evaluating child care options, you should keep your child’s temperament and needs in mind. Not all child care settings are right for all children. For example, some children may be happiest when they are with a large group of kids of a similar age with a structured regime. Other kids may prefer smaller groups and more individualized attention. Remember that this is a time for your child to learn and expand their world, so be sure to choose a provider that best meets your child’s unique and individual needs.
Before committing to hiring a provider for child care, you need to check their licensing or certification status, find out if they have any substantiated complaints and what were they, their last inspection report, if they have ever had to pay any sanctions or fines for being out of compliance. Ask the provider for the names and phone numbers of parents who have used their services, and call them. In addition to your basic questions, ask the parents what they would change about the child care provider’s service to learn about any weak areas. You can then evaluate whether this is a concern to you, and whether to discuss it with the provider. For instance, if they wish they were available later into the evening, this may not be a problem for you. However, if they say they wish they wouldn’t let their child sleep so long in the afternoon, you may want to talk to the provider to find out if you can set a limit to your child’s nap (if it is important to you).
If you search for your child care provider online, you will often find reviews showing the overall satisfaction rating of the provider, as well as specific comments, both good and bad. This can be a good place to find out whether other parents would recommend this provider or not. We recommend you use your best judgement when evaluating comments or reviews made online by strangers.
You should search your state’s child care licensing agency to verify that the provider’s license is current and in good standing. You can search for your local agency by using the words “verify child care license in (your state)”. The agency for your state should be in the top of the search results. Their website will usually have a place to search for providers.
Sign the Contract
Most providers require you to sign a contract, so be sure to read it completely before you sign it. Many contracts list the rules and guidelines and provide you with payment terms. Once your child is enrolled, it is best to make periodic visits to observe child care. Maintain open communication with the manager and staff to ensure that your child will get the most out of the experience.