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How to Choose a Day Care Provider

Out-of-Home Day Care

   ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.  Investigate your day care options thoroughly before making a decision.
   ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.  Investigate your day care options thoroughly before making a decision.

At some point during their childhood, most children will be taken care of by someone other than their parents. As we discussed on the first page, there are several options available to families seeking day care providers. One of the more cost-effective options is out-of-home day care, which includes day care centers and day care in a private home -- or "family day care." On this page, we will provide tips on selecting the right out-of-home day care for your family.

Child Care Centers

Child care centers offer good hours and shift workers, so they can remain open from very early in the morning until evening. Because of their convenience for working parents, they often have long waiting lists, so if you are considering this option, you should begin exploring child care centers early in your pregnancy.


Your child will have playmates, and you will likely meet other working parents, making the child care center the hub of a sort of extended family. If this community aspect appeals to you, you'll want to find out whether the center does anything to encourage communication between parents.

If you're considering a child care center, ask about the training of workers and, if possible, if they are adequately compensated. A poorly trained, dissatisfied worker may not have the skills or the patience to deal well with both the demands of the children and his or her own frustrations; abuse or neglect could result. Questions you should ask include: How much employee turnover is there? Do the workers seem happy? Do they seem to respect each other? Do they interact well with the children?

Child care centers may be privately owned or operated by nonprofit groups such as parents' cooperatives (which allow parents' active involvement), educational institutions (sometimes to provide training for students), or municipalities. A licensed center is governed by regulations concerning such aspects as the ratio of caregivers to children. You can receive a copy of the exact regulations in your state from the human services agency that monitors the licensing. When you have a choice, choose a licensed center or care provider. In some states, in-home caregivers must also be licensed. You also might consider selecting a center that has obtained additional certification from an organization such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).


Family Child Care

Child care in a private home, or family child care, provides a home atmosphere and personalized attention. Typically, a mother of a child takes several others into her home during the day. This option is usually less expensive than having a sitter in your home, and if the caregiver is really able to be with several children and still be sensitive to each child's needs, the situation is a good one. Your child will develop skills in the company of other children in a homey atmosphere, but she won't be exposed to different workers as she would be in a child care center.

If you're considering family child care, meet the person in the setting where your child would be cared for. Gear your questions to find out about the caregiver's priorities, interests, strengths, and experience with children. Give him or her pertinent information about your child's needs (medical history, diet, interests, idiosyncrasies) and your expectations. Obtain references -- the names of other families whose children stay with him or her-and check them out.

General Considerations

Gather information about each placement you are considering so you can compare hours of operation, vacancies, fees, adult-to-child ratios, and general philosophies about child care. If the center is handling very small babies, the adult-to-child ratio should ideally be one to three, but no more than one to four. If the children are between two and five years old, there should be one adult to five children.

Arrange to visit the options you find most attractive. Bring your child and go at a busy time. This way, you can check your child's response to the care-giver and watch the caregiver's style of interaction. Think about the following:

  • Is the caregiver sensitive to the needs of children of different ages?
  • How does the caregiver respond to a crisis?
  • If you're there early in the day, how does the care-giver respond to an upset child being left by his parents?
  • Does the caregiver take the time to allow the parents to express concerns?
  • Is the child given enough attention to ease the pain of separation?
  • Are children sensitively helped to make the transition from one activity to the next?
  • When you talk to the caregiver, do you feel as though you would be a member of the "team," or do you feel defensive? It's essential for you to feel the caregiver respects your relationship with your child and your feelings.

Look at the overall cleanliness of the center or home -- let your instincts give you a reading. Does the physical environment seem safe, or are detergents or medicines within easy reach, or are there such dangers as uncovered light sockets? What kinds of toys are provided? Are they safe? Do they allow for creative play and skill-building? Licensed day care facilities should be able to provide you with a written program description. If you still have questions after your visit, make a phone call or a follow-up visit.

Many parents are reluctant to expose a very young baby to the risk of infection outside the home or to take the chance of having an outsider bring disease into the house. Such fears are understandable, but do not allow them to unrealistically limit your baby's contact with people and the outside world. Germs are inevitable -- you will bring them into your house yourself and into contact with your baby.

Naturally, you will not knowingly expose your baby to someone who is suffering from a terrible cold or other communicable ailment; you can and should watch for such situations in your baby's day care environment and elsewhere. This sort of reasonable caution (which includes regular visits to the child's doctor and a regular program of immunizations and inoculations) should ensure that your baby enjoys normal health.

Once your child is placed in out-of-home day care, the only way to be sure he is safe is to make unannounced visits during the day. If there are rules against this, question the rules.

Perhaps a day care center or family day care isn't available in your area, or maybe you feel that your child would be more comfortable in her home. Whether you need full-time day care or occasional babysitting, there are other options available. On the following page, we'll explore in-home day care possibilities and tips on finding a babysitter you can be comfortable with.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.