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Choosing Child Care

Choosing a child care provider is one of the most important decisions you can make as a parent. Finding the best choice for your child will take time, but this episode will act as a guide to assist you in evaluating your child care needs and selecting a program that best suits those needs.

When beginning the search for a child care provider, we strongly suggest that you visit the centers you are considering, and talk to the staff who will be directly and indirectly involved in the care of your child.

Most states require that child care centers be licensed. Check with your state licensing office for more information. In California, all family child care homes and child care centers must be licensed by the State of California, but licensing alone does not guarantee the quality of a child care center or home. You are the best judge of which program will be the best for your child, and the more you visit, the better prepared you will be to make that choice.

Four key areas you’ll want to keep in mind are:

  • What is the adult-to-child ratio?
  • What are the health and safety conditions of the program?
  • What is the caregiver’s personal style?
  • How is the caregiver’s professionalism?

Now let’s break down each of these areas so you know exactly what to look for…

One of the most important factors to consider is the adult-to-child ratio: There are three types of child care providers and each has different licensing standards which guides the adult-to-child ratio

  • Small Family Child Care homes can have a maximum of 8 children. Standards require there to be 1 adult to every 4 infants; 1 adult to every 6 children, of which no more than 3 are infants; and 1 adult to every 8 children, of which no more than 2 are infants, and at least 2 are over the age of 6.
  • Large Family Care homes can have a maximum of 14 children, and an assistant caregiver must be present when there are more than 6 children.
  • Child Care Centers are licensed to provide care for children in a group setting, and can offer full or part-time infant, preschool, or school age programs. They may be independent or operate in connection with a school, church, or business. These require that 1 adult is present for every 4 infants, 12 preschool age children, or 14 school age children (ages 6-14).

The second factor to consider is the health and safety conditions of the center. Some other questions to ask are:

  • Is the facility licensed?
  • Are the proper adult/child ratios maintained?
  • Is the space safe, bright, attractive, and interesting to children?
  • Does the environment allow for a variety of play activities, both inside and out?
  • Are all areas child-proofed and free of hazards? Is all equipment safe and in good repair?
  • Is the facility clean overall (bathrooms, diapering areas, kitchen, play areas) and is hand washing practiced regularly?
  • Are there safe areas for napping?
  • Are there working smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and a first aid kit?
  • Is an emergency evacuation plan posted and practiced?
  • Are there emergency contact cards for each child?
  • Does the caregiver have liability insurance or a waiver of liability?
  • Does the caregiver or center staff have up-to-date training in pediatric first aid and CPR?
  • Does the caregiver or center use appropriate car seats or safety belts for each child if children are being transported?
  • If food is furnished at the facility, is it nutritionally balanced, prepared, and stored in a safe manner?

As a parent, it is also important to feel comfortable with the people taking care of your child. That is why it is important to consider our third key factor, the caregiver’s personal style, when evaluating a provider.

These are some questions to help you evaluate a caregiver’s personal style:

  • Is the caregiver someone who is warm and sensitive to children’s needs; and who responds lovingly and respectfully to children?
  • Does the caregiver give each child individual attention?
  • Does the caregiver treat each child in a positive way that builds self-esteem? For example, does the caregiver interact respectfully with children, using a positive tone of voice?
  • Does the caregiver have a firm but loving approach to discipline?
  • Is the caregiver willing to discuss your child with you, and are parents welcome to make unannounced visits at any time?
  • Is the caregiver accepting of your cultural and family values?

Finally, the fourth factor to consider is a caregiver’s professionalism. It is important to ask the following questions of your prospective provider:

  • Does the caregiver have training in child development or early childhood education?
  • Does the caregiver continue to keep up to date by attending trainings and seminars?
  • How much experience caring for children does the caregiver have?
  • Does the caregiver belong to any professional organizations?
  • Are child abuse reporting procedures provided to parents?
  • Does the caregiver use written agreements and clearly communicate the expectations and policies of the program?
  • Does the caregiver make a reference list of current and past clients available to parents?

You have the right and responsibility to request specific information about a licensed child care home. In California, you can obtain more information by contacting Community Care Licensing at the California Department of Social Services. In other U.S. States, contact your State Child Care Licensing Office. Even after you have chosen a child care provider, we recommend that you continue to monitor the arrangements by visiting unannounced and speaking to the caregiver about any concerns you may have. Remember, you have the final responsibility for your child’s care and the right to change child care providers whenever you are concerned about your child’s well-being or happiness.

We suggest using all of the questions in this podcast as a checklist as you visit different child care providers. You can also find a printable checklist list in the brochure entitled “Choosing Child Care,” as well as additional podcasts and brochures on various parenting topics, on the Children’s Home Society of California’s website at www.chs-ca.org.

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