Making Your Decision

Making Your Decision

Once you have a list of providers that meet your initial child care search criteria, the next step is to narrow your search to find the best fit for your family. Additional research will help you determine which programs best meet your needs or if you might need to expand your search. We encourage you to follow the process below as you learn more and decide on a program. Click each item for a more detailed checklist, which has a useful list of questions to ask and key program elements to consider.

  • 1. Call Providers
  • 2. Check Inspection Reports
  • 3. Visit Your Provider
  • 4. Ask Yourself
  • 5. Check References
  • 6. Choose Your Provider

Call Providers

We encourage you to call each provider on your list. This will allow you to find the best match for your needs. When you first call, we recommend you verify the information you have for each provider. You can use this checklist to help guide you through the questions you should ask during the call.

  • Does your child care have an opening for my child for the dates I need to begin care?
  • What hours and days are you open?
  • Where are you located?
  • How much does care cost?
  • Is financial assistance available? For example, do you accept CCDF vouchers or provide a sliding fee scale?
  • How many children are in your child care?
  • How many children would be in my child’s class, and/or how many children are there per adult?
  • What age groups do you serve?
  • Do you provide transportation?
  • Do you provide meals? If so, which ones? (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snacks)? For infants, do you provide formula and/or diapers?
  • Do you have any additional accreditations?
  • When can I come to visit?

Visit Your Provider

Visit in person with those providers who continue to meet your criteria. Stay as long as you can - you may even choose to visit more than once. During your visit, ask questions or observe. You also can download our Provider Checklist below for full suggestions of what to look for based on these questions.

  • Can you provide me with a copy of your program's policies?
  • Can I visit any time?
  • How do you handle discipline?
  • How do you approach meals and feedings?
  • What is your policy on toilet training and diapering?
  • What do you do if a child is sick?
  • What would you do in case of an emergency?
  • What training or certifications do you or other staff members have?
  • How are staff trained and evaluated?
  • What are your caregiver-to-child ratios and group sizes?
  • How often throughout the day do caregivers read to the children?
  • May I see an example of your daily or weekly activity plan?
  • How often do you take the children outside for fresh air?
  • How often do you check your outdoor playground equipment for hazards or other issues?
  • Have criminal history background checks been conducted on individuals present at the provider? Was the check based on fingerprints?
  • May I see a copy of your license or other certifications?
  • Do you have substitute or back-up caregivers?
  • What do you do to work closely with parents?
  • May I have a list of parents (current and former) who have used your care?

Ask Yourself

During your first visit, use your senses to help answer the questions below. The answer to all the questions should be yes.

  • Are children being watched at all times, including while sleeping?
  • Are infants napping on their backs, in cribs, with no pillows or blankets? Is there a separate crib for each infant? Are older children resting/napping in a semi-private area away from active, noisy, or busy areas of the classroom?
  • Are caregivers warm, welcoming, nurturing, affectionate, patient, and good-natured? Do they pay individual attention to each child?
  • Do caregivers talk with children at eye-level, engage them in conversations, and ask questions when appropriate?
  • Do caregivers handle discipline in a calm, consistent way to encourage positive behavior?
  • Are children happily involved in daily activities and comfortable with the caregiver?
  • Is the space organized into different play areas with bright, colorful, easy-to-use materials at eye-level? Are these materials available at all times and clean/well-maintained?
  • Are books, pictures, food, dolls, and other materials age-appropriate? (Older children have separate areas for different kinds of play. Infants and toddlers have toys that "do something" when the child plays with them)? Do the materials celebrate diverse ethnic and cultural groups?
  • Do adults and children wash their hands (after using the bathroom, changing diapers, eating, etc.)?
  • Do caregivers appear to clean infants and toddlers promptly when diapers are wet or soiled? Do they clean diaper-changing surfaces and disinfect them after use?
  • Are soft surfaces for sitting and lying available? Are floors and sitting/playing surfaces clean?
  • Do caregivers have medicines labeled and out of children's reach? Do they have cleaning supplies and other poisonous materials locked up, out of children's reach?
  • Are breakable, sharp, or potential choking hazards out of reach? Are outlets covered and curtains/blind cords, furnaces, or space heaters appropriately secured?
  • Are stairs and doorways protected with locked gates?
  • Is the outdoor play area a safe place for children to play? Is the equipment the right size and type for the children who use it? Is it surrounded by a fence at least 4-feet tall? Is the equipment placed on mulch, sand, or rubber matting?

Check References

Even if you feel you’ve found “the one” after your provider visits, it’s still important to call

Parents whose children are no longer enrolled can be especially useful, as they may be
more candid. Parents whose children are currently in the provider’s care can speak best to the
recent program strengths and challenges.

Ask for a number of names – six or seven is not too many. References may be difficult to reach, so
it’s best to have more names than you need. This also allows you to reach as many parents as you
need to feel comfortable, without needing to go back to the provider to ask for more names.

Listen to what is said and what isn’t said. Silence and hesitations can speak volumes. Ask follow-up
questions if a parent gives a confusing or disturbing answer.

  • Tell me about how reliable the caregiver was/is on a daily basis.
  • How does/did the caregiver discipline your child?
  • How does/did your child enjoy the child care experience?
  • What was the most difficult part of transitioning to the child care, and how did the provider respond?
  • How does/did the caregiver respond to you as a parent and involve you with your child’s progress?
  • Talk about the caregiver’s level of respect for your values and culture.
  • How long do you plan to keep your child with this provider? OR Why did you leave this caregiver?
  • Are there any program rules that you disagree/d with (e.g. fees, holidays, hours)? Were there any surprises regarding rules?
  • Do you have any other strengths or weaknesses to share about this provider?
  • Would you recommend the caregiver without reservation?
  • Can you recommend any other parents whose children were with this caregiver to whom I can speak?

Choose Your Provider

After you have researched the available providers, ask yourself:

  • Which child care program will best allow my child to be happy and grow?
  • Which caregiver can meet the special needs of my child?
  • Are the caregiver's values compatible with my family's values?
  • Is the child care available and affordable according to my family's needs and resources?
  • Do I feel good about my decision?

Download our provider checklist which has a useful list of questions to ask and key program elements when making your child care decision.