Of course, we recommend that parents care for and raise their own children as much as feasibly possible.  There is no one more qualified to care for you child than you.  However, for parents who must place their child in a daycare, carefully choosing that day care is a very important consideration.  There is a lot to consider.

How to get started (the process):

  1. Make a list of what’s important to you.  Do you want a daycare center that is close to home or close to work?  Do you want your child to be with in a larger group with several children or do you prefer smaller groups?   Is there a family member like a grandparent who could do the job?  Do you want in-home child care with a relative or a professional daycare?  Does you child have any special needs or disabilities that need to be addressed?
  2. Ask your friends and family who they would recommend.  Look on the Internet and in the phone book for other possible centers.  Is the center accredited by the National Association for the Education for Young Children or the National Association of Family Child Care?
  3. Once you have a list of possible daycare options, call them and ask some questions.   Use the questions in the following section to help narrow your choices.  Narrow down your list by crossing off the centers you had a bad feeling about.
  4. Visit and interview the daycare centers that you have a good feeling about.  Get a list of the activities their children are doing.   Look around at the facility.  Is it a warm, clean, safe environment in which you think your child would learn and have fun?  Verify the actual teacher to child ratio during your visit.  Also, ask any more questions you may have and make sure the director is allowing you free access to look at everything you want to see or know about.
  5. Ask the daycare center for references.  Narrow down your list again then start checking references.  Call parents of children who are currently at the center or have had children at the center in the past.  Ask their opinion of the center and if they would recommend it to you.
  6. Take your child to the center for a visit.
  7. Once you find a daycare center that meets your qualifications and one that you feel your child would like, enroll your child.  If there is a waiting list, get your name on the list and find a temporary caregiver until a spot becomes open.

Questions to ask:

  • Hours. When is the center open? What if you are late in picking up your child? How are vacations and holidays scheduled?
  • Licensing/accreditation. Is the center licensed or registered with the appropriate local government agencies? Are there any outstanding violations? Is the program currently accredited or in the process of becoming accredited?
  • Inspections/consultations. Is there a qualified health professional, such as a doctor or nurse, for the program? (The national standard recommends that center-based infant-toddler programs should be visited by a health professional at least once a month, and all other child care programs should be visited at least once every 3 months.)
  • Visiting policy. Can you visit the center before your child is enrolled? If your child is enrolled, can you visit the center anytime it is open? Can you see all the areas that your child will use? Are visitors screened or is their identification checked, so that only approved adults can visit the center and pick up children?
  • Experience and training. What education, training, and experience do the staff have? What type of additional training has the staff had during the past year? Do outside experts provide training?
  • Adequate staffing. Are there enough trained adults available on a regular basis? What happens if staff are ill or on vacation? Are children supervised by sight and sound at all times, even when they are sleeping?  Do the child-staff ratios and the size of the groups of children fall within nationally recognized standards? For example, in a room with 4 children aged 13 to 30 months, there should be 1 trained caregiver. In a room with 5 to 8 children aged 13 to 30 months, there should be 2 trained caregivers. There should be no more than 8 children aged 13 to 30 months in a room. (See chart.)

The following is the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended child-staff ratio.

AgeChild to staff ratioMaximum group size
Birth to 12 months3 to 16
13 to 30 months4 to 18
31 to 35 months5 to 110
3 year olds7 to 114
4 to 5 year olds8 to 116
6 to 8 year olds10 to 120
9 to 12 year olds12 to 124
  • Health standards. Do children need a medical exam before they can enroll? Have staff been checked by a doctor to be sure that they are healthy? What are the policies when children are mildly ill?
  • Quality. Are children cared for in small groups? Are activities proper for their age group? Is there a daily schedule? Is there daily indoor and outdoor play time? Can children watch TV and if so, what is watched and for how long?
  • Policies. Check the center’s written policies. What is the discipline policy? Do the children go on outings? If they travel by car, van, or bus, are the proper child safety seats, booster seats, and seat belts used? Is there someone besides the driver supervising the children during transport?
  • Consistency. Are the program’s policies on meals, discipline, and issues such as toilet training the same as yours? How long have the staff worked at the center? How much experience do they have with children of your child’s age?
  • Backup plans. What happens if your child is sick or the child care program is closed?
  • Fees and services. What is the cost? How are payments made? Are there other services available in addition to child care? Do these cost extra?
  • References. Ask for references and contact information from parents who use the program, as well as at least 1 parent whose child was in the program during the past year.
  • Communication. Can you talk with staff on a regular basis? If there was something sensitive you needed to bring up, would you feel comfortable talking to them?

A checklist to help rate your choice

“Is This the Right Place for My Child? 38 Research-Based Indicators of High-Quality Child Care” is a checklist put together by the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) that you can use to evaluate child care programs. This checklist is on the NACCRRA Web site at www.naccrra.org/parents and available through a link from the AAP Web site www.healthychildcare.org. All of the questions are based on research about what is important to your child’s health, safety, and development.  Licensing laws vary from state to state. You can find your state’s child care regulations along with other helpful information at the ChildCareAware website.

The signs of a great daycare:

  1. STAFF:  They treat children with respect, flexibility and patience.   They are able to meet your child’s developmental and emotional needs.   The staff is in a sufficient number to meet the needs of all children in the classroom.  Please see the table above.   They greet your child and discuss your child with you.  They practice good personal hygiene.  They communicate what happened with your child that day.
  2. FACILITY:  It features safe indoor and outdoor areas and equipment.  It has orderly, clean work areas.  It is well-lit and attractive with bright colors.  It has sanitary bathrooms and diaper-changing areas.
  3. HEALTH AND SAFETY:   The room temperature is comfortable.  Safety features such as rounded table corners and plastic electrical outlet covers are in place.  Non-toxic play materials are used. Healthy snacks and meals are used.   The process for dropping off and picking up your child is organized and safe.  They insure that children are sent home only with approved people.  The kitchen area is clean.   Frequent handwashing is practiced.  Separate cribs for infants and separate cots and mats for older kids are maintained.  In short, the child sleeps in their own crib, mat or cot.   Cleaning materials and medicines are kept safely out of reach of children.
  4. PROGRAM:  It is a licensed facility.  Children are involved with creative play.  There are plenty of play and educational materials.   There is an organized schedule.   There is supervised rest.  There is minimal TV time.  The provider reads lots of stories.  There are many books on the shelves.
  5. GENERAL:   Rules are clearly explained.   Good behavior is encouraged.  Children are allowed to get dirty through play.  No child is left out during play.   You see laughing, caring, sharing, and generally happy children.