Tips for choosing the best childcare option for your child
For parents looking for a childcare center or daycare for their child, the process can feel overwhelming. Of course, you want to ensure the health, safety and comfort of your child when they are being cared for by someone else.
Finding childcare that fits your child’s and your family’s needs is important, and CHOC is here to help.
Help Me Grow is a CHOC program that connects children and their families to resources that enhance the development, behavior and learning of children aged from birth through 8 years.
Here, Deanna Parga, Community Liaison at Help Me Grow, offers parents helpful tips to remember when deciding which childcare center is best for their family.
Things to think about when choosing a childcare facility for your child
Research and gather information about potential childcare options
Start by researching childcare centers in your area. You can search online, or ask for recommendations from friends, family or colleagues.
Reach out to local parenting groups on social media or ask the staff at your pediatrician’s office if they have any recommendations, says Deanna.
Think about your priorities in a childcare facility
Talk with your partner or trusted family about what you’re looking for in a childcare center. Consider factors like location, cost, hours of operation or education philosophies that you are looking for.
Check for licenses, accreditations, CPR and first aid training
It’s important to ensure that the center has been licensed by the State of California. Check with regulatory websites or agencies to see if there have been any complaints or violations against the childcare center in the past few years.
Some childcare facilities may have additional accreditations from outside accrediting agencies – such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
Accredited childcare centers must achieve and maintain their accreditation through many health, curriculum and safety checks, meaning that they have high standards of care. However, this also means that centers with additional accreditations will likely be more expensive.
Also check to make sure that the center’s staff members are certified in first aid and CPR, and have had comprehensive criminal background checks.
Look for references from other parents and caregivers
The center should be able to provide references from other parents about their experience.
Make sure you are comfortable with the center’s adult-to-child ratios
Ask about the adult-to-child ratios at the childcare center. Ensure that they will always have enough trained adults available to care for the kids, even when some staff members are out due to illness or vacation.
The State of California requires specific minimum standards of adult-to-child ratios for all licensed care centers, such as the following:
Small-family childcare homes
In small-family childcare homes, child care is provided in the licensed caregiver’s own home. These types of childcare centers are licensed to provide care to a maximum of eight children, including the caregiver’s children under the age of 10.
The minimum licensing standards for adult-to-child ratios in small-family childcare homes are:
- 1 adult: 4 children – If infants, or ages from birth to 24 months.
- 1 adult: 6 children – With a maximum of three infants.
- 1 adult: 8 children – With a maximum of two infants and a minimum of two children over the age of 6 years.
Large-family childcare homes
Large family homes are licensed to provide care for a maximum number of 14 children, including the caregiver’s own children under the age of 10. When care is provided for more than six children, an assistant caregiver must be present.
The minimum licensing standards for adult-to-child ratios in large-family childcare homes are:
- 2 adults: 12 children – with a maximum of four infants ages birth to 24 months.
- 2 adults: 14 children – with a maximum of three infants a minimum of two children over the age of 6 years.
Childcare centers are licensed to provide care for children in a group setting. Centers — whether large or small — can offer full- or part-time infant, preschool or school-age programs. They may be independently operated or connected with a school, church, business or other organization.
The minimum licensing standards for adult-to-child ratios in childcare centers are:
- 1 adult: 4 children – If infants, or ages birth to 24 months.
- 1 adult: 12 children — If preschool age, or 2 to 6 years.
- 1 adult: 14 children – If school age, or 6 to 14 years.
Visit the childcare center and ask questions
Schedule visits to potential childcare facilities. Take note of the environment and staff interactions with the kids. Ask questions about the following, like:
Daily schedule and discipline policies
- What would be the daily routine and typical activities for my child?
- What is the center’s discipline policy? Make sure it doesn’t involve isolation, humiliation or intimidation and that it aligns with your thoughts on discipline.
- How often will the childcare provider give you feedback about your child?
Safety, cleaning and sanitizing measures
Ask staff about their policy on cleaning and sanitizing and check to make sure that the center was planned with children’s safety in mind. Look for things like:
- Are there plenty of handwashing stations for the staff and kids?
- Do the play areas look safe for kids?
- Are visitors to the center screened or do they have their identification checked to ensure they are approved to pick up children?
- What is the center’s transportation policy? Do they have the proper car seats, booster seats and seat belts?
- Is there a qualified health professional, such as a doctor or nurse, for the program? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that 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 childcare programs should be visited at least once every three months.
Policies that can affect your family
Ask about policies for special cases that might affect your family like sick days, vaccinations, holidays, late pick-ups or any other special policies.
After you get a feel for the space and get answers to the questions, make sure to remember: Trust your instincts! If something feels off, don’t hesitate to continue your search for other centers.
Special considerations for parents of babies when choosing a childcare center
If you have a baby, make sure the center follows guidelines to reduce the risk for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and practices special, sleep-related safety measures.
These guidelines include:
- Placing your baby on their back during nap time or while sleeping.
- Using a firm sleep surface.
- Keeping soft objects and loose bedding out of the crib.
- Making sure vaccines are up to date.
- Offering your child a pacifier at nap time.
- Not letting the child get overheated.
- Keeping your child away from tobacco smoke, alcohol and illegal drugs.
Resources for finding child care in California
- Call 866-GROW-025 – available in both English and Spanish – for assistance in connecting with Orange County developmental services.
- Help Me Grow’s Childcare Toolkit
- The Parent’s Guide to Choosing Child Care: Tip sheet from the California Department of Social Services
- Need help paying for child care? Apply for assistance from the Children’s Home Society of California
- Choosing Child Care: Additional information from Children’s Home Society of California
Remember that finding the right child care is a personal decision, and what works for one family may not work for another. Take the time to gather information, visit facilities and consider your family’s needs and values when making this decision.
Help Me Grow connects children and their families to resources that enhance the development, behavior and learning of children aged from birth through 8 years.