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Choosing quality child care can be complicated. Fortunately, there are tools to help you select the right program. From licensing and inspection report websites to lists of important questions, you have help in your search for quality child care.

One valuable tool that is available in many states is the quality rating and improvement system (QRIS). QRISs help child care providers provide higher-quality care, and they give families a way to see and compare programs’ quality ratings. Quality ratings, if available, are an important indicator of child care quality.

Let’s take a closer look at what you should know about quality rating and improvement systems.

How do families benefit from QRISs?

A QRIS helps families recognize quality child care. Like a rating for a hotel or restaurant, a child care QRIS rates child care providers. Most QRISs use symbols (such as stars) to indicate levels of quality. Providers earn higher ratings as they meet more quality standards.

Families can use QRIS ratings to find child care providers that meet high quality standards. They can also compare quality ratings for multiple providers.

What does a QRIS rating tell me about a provider?

Licensing: Many QRIS programs require providers to be licensed. Different states have different QRIS requirements and state licensing requirements, so it is a good idea to confirm a child care provider’s license and review inspection reports even if the provider participates in a QRIS.

Quality standards: The quality standards used to rate child care providers are different in each state. Many build on state licensing health and safety requirements. Many states' QRISs also include specific quality standards for infant and toddler care. Each state’s rating system is different, but they usually address some of the same topics: provider qualifications, curriculum and learning activities, health and safety, family engagement, number of staff and children present, and how the program is managed.

Participation: In several states, licensed child care providers are required to participate in the QRIS. In other states, QRIS participation may be voluntary or only required for programs receiving subsidies or other funds. QRISs are not available everywhere. At this time, some states are still planning or testing their QRISs. Some states also have regional QRIS programs that may not be available in all areas. The QRIS National Learning Network has a map showing the status of QRISs in each state.

Ratings: A higher rating means that a child care program has achieved more quality standards. However, a lower rating does not necessarily indicate low quality. Many times, providers who have just begun the QRIS process will receive the lowest quality rating while they await their first evaluation. Ask potential child care providers if they participate in your state’s QRIS and what their rating is. You may also want to ask how long the provider has been working with the QRIS. If they’ve just begun, ask when they expect to receive their next rating. For providers that have been working with the QRIS for some time, ask what steps they’re taking to increase their quality rating.

How can I find out more about my local QRIS?

You may be able to find information about your state’s QRIS online. The state resources section of this website has information to help you learn whether there is a QRIS in your state. Just click this link, See Your State's Resources, select your state under “Get Child Care Resources.” You will then see a “Find Child Care Now” button and links to see if there is a QRIS in your state.