Learn how to choose a childcare provider with confidence.
Obtaining quality child care for preschool-age children is a priority for working parents. The many complex issues involved can't be covered adequately in a brief article, but our Child Care Checklist provides some important questions that can help parents evaluate whether a particular child care program meets the needs of their child and family. Some questions can help you preview the center before visiting and others are intended to help you get the most out of one or more on-site inspections.
At the end of the questions are recommendations of additional online resources that can aid parents in finding the most appropriate child care for their family.
Preview your child's needs before starting to identify possible child care programs.
How old is your child? Infants and young toddlers have different care needs from older preschoolers.
Does your child have any special physical, medical, or emotional needs?
Check out the program's educational philosophy and content.
Do the children have a regular daily routine of activities?
What are the educational goals of the program? Does it have a written curriculum?
Are the activities appropriate for the ages of the children?
Does the program encourage creative and expressive activities?
How are mealtimes and naptimes handled?
Does the general atmosphere seem “child-friendly?” Do staff interact with and respond sensitively to children with understanding?
What are the program's policies related to discipline?
Are the values of the program consistent with yours?
Does the center have a written description of their educational program goals and content?
Evaluate the program's staffing and qualifications of the teachers and other care providers.
How many children participate in the program and what is the ratio of staff members to children for each age group? Are there enough adults to supervise and teach the children adequately?
What training is required for teachers and other staff members? What level of experience is required for each type of staff?
How much staff turnover is there?
Do infants have specific, consistent primary care providers?
Observe interactions between the teachers or other care providers and the children.
Do teachers and other staff use a positive tone when they work with the children, even when a child is frustrated, angry or tired? Are they understanding but able to set boundaries?
Do staff treat each child as an individual?
Do staff seem to be over controlling or too lax in supervision? Do staff seem to use negative talk with the children?
Do children seem comfortable with staff?
Evaluate the effectiveness of communication between parents and staff.
Is it easy to discuss your questions and concern with administrators and teachers?
Can you talk together comfortably about your expectations of the program and theirs of parents?
Do they seem concerned and interested to hear about your child as an individual?
Check the program's license and/or accreditation.
Is the program licensed? In all states child care centers and family child care programs are required by law to be licensed, though specific regulations vary.
Is the program accredited? Accreditation means that the program has met specific standards for program, facility, and staff training and qualifications set by the accrediting agency.
Assess the program's physical facilities and environment.
Is the physical facility designed and furnished for children?
Are classrooms and/or activity areas inviting, well-lit, and well-equipped?
Is the facility clean, well-maintained, and safe?
Does the program pay particular attention to following high cleanliness standards in handling food, in eating, in caring for the child's toilet needs, and in napping areas/equipment?
If there's an outside playground area, is it free of hazards? Is equipment safe and well-maintained? Is there adequate playground security?
Assess the program's safety and security procedures.
Does the program have written health and safety procedures?
What are the program's policies with regard to health evaluation before admission?
What are the guidelines for attendance by children when they are ill?
Does staff have training in first aid for infants and children and in CPR?
What are the security procedures to ensure safe drop off and pick up of children?
Are there other security procedures or provisions?
Is the child care center in a safe neighborhood?
Consider the accessibility of the program's location and schedule.
Is the program's location easily accessible to your work and home or is it “out of the way?”
Do the hours the program provides care fit your schedule?
What are the policies related to early or late pick up?
The following two websites provide a wide variety of information and resources on issues related to child care programs:
Child Care Aware This organization gathers a variety of resources onto one website, including publications just for parents that you can download. Child Care Aware is a program of the NACCRRA, the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, and is funded in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
National Network for Child Care NNCC is another “umbrella” web site that provides a number of resources and links to a wide variety of organizations that work on childcare and children's issues.