Six Tips for Finding the Best Child Care Provider

All Children Need -- and Deserve -- Quality Child Care

By Shay Bilchik, President and CEO, Child Welfare League of America
(ARA) - Every day, between 10 and 12 million children under the age of 5 receive full-time or part-time child care, for which parents are spending $27 billion a year. Shockingly, another 24 million school-age children who are too young to stay home alone and need quality child care before and after school while parents work, look for work, or get job training, do not receive it.

All families, regardless of their economic status, may have a hard time finding quality, affordable child care. Findings in several national studies indicate that the quality of programs varies from high (child care that is truly growth-enhancing for children) to custodial (not harmful to children, but not particularly nurturing, either) to harmful.

Good quality child care helps children emotionally, socially, and intellectually. It equips them to enter school ready and eager to learn. As parents search for child care, they must be aware of the elements and indicators of good quality. The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) offers the following information to help parents as they look for the best care for their children.

* Finding child care takes time. Plan ahead and start your search for a child care provider early. Avoid a situation where you don't have a choice.

* Family child care homes or child day care centers should welcome visits from parents at any time of the day. It is important for parents to visit more than once and at different times during the day to get a complete picture of the home or center.

* Does the provider offer a safe environment? Potentially dangerous materials should be out of reach of children, electrical outlets should be covered, equipment should be in good repair, and outdoor play areas should have adequate and safe ground cover. Ask to see the license and other required certificates (fire, health, and building).

* Observe interactions between children and the teacher or provider. Are kids enjoying themselves? Are they happy and involved in activities? Teachers should listen to children and answer their questions, and pay attention to the children's needs and wants. Activities should be geared for different ages and abilities. What is the teacher to child ratio? The younger the child, the smaller the group should be.

* Find out about the teacher's or provider's experience. What is the teacher turnover rate? How many teachers have college degrees in early childhood education or other equivalent credentials? Ask the teachers about the working conditions: are they happy, do they plan to stay? For a family child care provider; ask why they chose this career. Studies show that more providers who have an interest in working with children and who treat the role of provider as a profession offer better quality care.

* Once a child is in a program, parents must continue to be active participants. Make sure your caregiver is doing what they agreed to, that your kids continue to be happy, and that you feel comfortable with the situation. Remember, kids learn what they live. If their child care environment is a good one, they will learn.

More broadly, parents can and should help improve the quality of child care in their communities by demanding better licensing standards, regulations and monitoring of programs. They can work to improve salaries for child care teachers and require adequate credentials, support public funding to help subsidize the cost of care for families who cannot afford good quality day care, and ask their employers to become more involved in supporting working families and child care.

The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) is the oldest and largest national nonprofit organization developing and promoting policies and programs to protect America's children and strengthen America's families. CWLA's 1,182 public and private nonprofit member agencies serve 3 million abused and neglected children and their families each year. For more information, contact CWLA at (202) 638-2952 or visit the organization's Web site, www.cwla.org.

Courtesy of ARA