One of the toughest decisions parents have to make is choosing a child care provider. After all, you’re trusting your child’s wellbeing to someone else. Of course it’s overwhelming, and you’re certainly not alone. In America, nearly 11 million children under the age of five spend 35 or more hours each week in child care, according to a 2012 report from Child Care Aware of America.

Your mind is flooded with questions and concerns: What type is best? Can I afford quality care? Most importantly, will my child be nurtured safe, and happy? The good news is that there’s lot of help. So don’t panic. Take a deep breath (or ten), get organized, and move into action.

If you’re interested in child care outside your home there are two basic types:

  • A Child Care Center provides care for groups of children under the direction of a staff of caregivers. The staff should have some type of early childhood education training and the centers are usually licensed by the state. Centers can be operated for profit by a chain, an individual, or by non-profit agencies, such as churches, public schools, the government, or other non-profits.
  • Child Care Home provides care for a small group of children in the caregiver’s house. These homes should be registered or licensed with the State.

To find a listing of providers in Pennsylvania, go to CCIS – Child Care Information Services – Department of Public Welfare or Compass. For a national listing, Child Care Aware is an excellence source, even providing a Budgeting Child Care On-line Calculator .

Once you’ve come up with a list of potential providers, narrow down your choices by conducting telephone interviews to determine whether you should invest the time and effort in making an on-site visit. If at all possible, schedule a time when both parents or caregivers can come. It’s always good to have more than one pair of eyes looking over the situation. The following checklist from Zero to Three offers key things you should be observing when touring the facilities:

  • Do caregivers speak to the children, even babies?  Do they sing and read to the children?
  • Do they answer children’s questions patiently?  Do they ask children questions?
  • Is each baby allowed to eat and sleep according to their own rhythms, and not based on a schedule imposed by the caregiver?
  • For toddlers, is a daily schedule posted, using pictures and visuals, so that children can anticipate what will happen next?
  • Are toys and materials well organized so that children can choose what interests them?
  • Are caregivers able to accommodate the special needs of children?
  • Does the environment accommodate the special needs of children?
  • Do caregivers respect the language, culture and values of families in the program?
  • How does the caregiver feel about discipline? Weaning? Toilet training? Feeding?  Do the caregiver’s beliefs match your own?
  • Does the caregiver handle conflicts without losing patience, shaming a child, or frequently displaying anger?
  • Does the caregiver seem to enjoy children?
  • Are you welcome to drop in at any time?
  • Would your child feel good about coming here?  Would you feel good about leaving your child here?
  • Is the environment sanitary and safe?
  • Is the setting appealing with comfortable lighting and an acceptable noise level?

After you’ve completed your visits and have a list of top choices, the next step is finding the center that best fits your child’s needs. What might be perfect for one child, may not be suitable for another. In order for a center to fully support the physical, emotional, social, and cognitive growth of your child, it must be able to support and enhance your child’s unique learning style.  Zero to Three and Child Care Aware have developed a brochure that helps you determine what type of center would be best for your child’s temperament whether he or she is adaptable, cautious or feisty.

Finally, keep in mind that even after you’ve completed your research, checked out references, and enrolled your child in a center; your job is not over. In fact, it’s just beginning. Working with your child care provider is an on-going process. You need to be an active participant. Be aware of your child’s daily activities, volunteer when possible, meet with staff and administration, and be visible!