Choosing Child Care - Three Girls Smiling

Choosing Quality Child Care

On average, children can spend up to 2/3 of their waking hours in child care. Choosing the right child care program for your child and family is an important decision, and not one to take lightly.

Six Easy Steps for Choosing Quality Child Care

No two child care programs are alike but many offer the same types of care so sometimes it comes down to which program "feels right" to you and your child. These steps can help with this important decision.

Choosing Child Care - Child Looking Through Magnifying Glass

1. Start Early

Be sure to give yourself plenty of time so you can choose the right child care program without feeling pressured. This isn't a decision you want to rush! If you need infant care you probably want to start several months before your baby arrives.

  • Get recommendations from other parents at work or among friends.
  • Search online for child care programs in your area to see what’s available.
  • Make a list of which programs have the hours, types of care, and philosophy that fit what you’re looking for.

2. Do Your Research

Search for your state’s child care regulation information to see what the guidelines are in your state. In Wisconsin the Department of Children and Families oversees the regulation of child care facilities, and Your Guide to Regulated Care summarizes Wisconsin's child care rules.

If your state offers a child care search use it to look for licensed programs near you. Be sure to check out:

  • Regulatory Status. Is the program licensed, certified or license-exempt? Has the program's regulation ever been suspended or revoked?
  • Visitation Reports.Were there any violations? When and what were they? What is the corresponding correction plan? Were there any valid complaints filed against the program?

3. Pare Down the List

Choosing Child Care - Girls Smiling on Couch

Contact prospective programs to see which can be screened out. If any unregulated programs are on your list be sure to check them out carefully because there’s no oversight making sure they’re safe and following the rules.

Make a list of your most important questions so you don’t forget any. You may want to ask:

  • What hours are they open?
  • How long have they been in business?
  • Are they accredited?
  • What qualifications do the caregivers have?
  • Will there be space for your child/ren when you need it?
  • What is the cost of care and what does it include?
  • When can you schedule a time to visit?

4. Schedule a Visit

After narrowing down your choices, schedule interviews with several programs to see which feels right to you. Be aware that in-home providers are interviewing you to see if you’re a good fit for their program as much as you’re interviewing them.

Keep your eyes and ears open during your visit, and plan to ask more in-depth questions. If you aren’t sure what to look for, download Tips for Choosing Quality Child Care. You may want to print them or bring paper along to jot down notes you can refer back to when making your decision.

5. Make an Informed Decision

Most programs will offer references; don't be shy about asking if none are offered. Take time to contact the references listed: ask what they liked about the program, what they wished was different, and if they'd enroll their child again.

Don't rely on letters of recommendation or online reviews. Letters are too easy to edit, and big programs naturally have a bigger online presence so they recieve more reviews than smaller programs, especially in-home ones.

Still not sure? Ask to stop by at another time of the day to see what things are like then. If your first interview and tour was in the evening, ask to visit when children are present. Or if you first visited in the morning, ask to stop in at the end of the day. You may notice things you missed the first time around.

6. Hand Over your House Keys

Choosing Child Care - Amy Holding Two Toddlers

No, that isn't a mistake, keep reading... Think about everything you've learned.

  • Which program/provider made you feel most comfortable? Where would you choose to spend time?
  • Were most of the children happy and engaged most of the time? Where do you think your child will be happiest?
  • Which program seems most willing to work with you for the benefit of your child?

Most important of all, which program would you give a set of your house or car keys to? Your reflex may be "Neither! Why would I?" Take a breath and consider: if you're not willing to trust a program with your house or car, how can you trust them with your child? Follow your gut. If something doesn’t feel right or you'd hesitate to hand over your keys, the child care program probably isn’t the right one for your family.

Finally, keep in mind that your responsibilities don't end when you choose a child care program! Understanding your contract and financial obligations, becoming familiar with program policies, and finding ways to be involved in the program are important too.

Choosing Child Care - Amy with a Boy and Girl

Responsive and Trusted

“Amy was the our first experience with a childcare provider for our young son. She was responsive and trusted and routinely kept us informed about how he was doing." ~ Karin

Quality Child Care

Amy & Kids Co. is a high quality child care program that helps children learn and grow healthy, happy, and strong.

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