Selecting a Child Care Program: Questions to ConsiderChoosing a child care program is one of the most important and difficult decisions you will make. If possible, make time to visit several programs to spend time watching what happens in the program and to ask lots of questions. Once you have visited and talked to the owner or director and the other adults who will be caring for and teaching your child, compare what you have seen and heard at each program to pick the best one for your family.

The checklists below are valuable tools to use on these visits.

Start with the first checklist. It covers 15 “must-haves”: the most important questions about health, safety, and quality that you want to be able to check “yes” for at any program you are considering.

The second checklist is longer, with additional questions that you will want to ask when interviewing potential child care programs. Use these questions to get more detail on important topics that affect your child’s well-being and your family’s experience.

You can download both checklists, print them out, and bring them with you on visits. There is space for you to take notes and compare several programs.

15 Must-Haves for All Child Care Programs

Can you check yes for each of these 15 must-haves? Click here to print this list and take it with you when you visit potential programs to compare up to three different child care options.

Questions

Yes

No

Is the program licensed? Ask to see the license. If not, ask why and then check your state’s licensing regulations to make sure the program is not required to be licensed.

Look at the program’s past inspection reports and complaint history.

Find licensing information and inspection reports for your state and view inspection reports.

 

 

Are visits from parents allowed and encouraged anytime the child care program is open? If you are not allowed to visit at any time (without calling ahead), this is not the best program for your child and you should consider a different program.

 

 

Does the program have an appropriate number of adults looking after each group of children? This is known as the child-to-adult ratio. Recommended ratios are usually lower for younger children. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that child care centers have no more than 3 infants under 12 months old per adult.

Learn more about child-to-adult ratios.

 

 

Are children, including infants, supervised at all times, even when they are sleeping?

 

 

Does the director (of a child care center) have a college degree in child development or a related field? Do teachers (or the owner and operator of a family child care home) have a credential or college degree in early childhood education or a related field?

Do all adults in the program receive ongoing training in working with children and child development?

 

 

Is there a planned schedule for each day or week that encourages learning and includes active and quiet play, group and individual learning activities, rest time and meal times?

 

 

Is the environment safe, clean, and well maintained? For example, are safe cribs provided for each infant, and does the program follow safe sleep guidelines? Are electrical outlets covered? Are medicines and dangerous items, including cleaning supplies, kept out of the reach of children? 

 

 

Is there a written discipline policy that explains how behavioral concerns are handled? Do discipline techniques included in the policy teach and guide children rather than punish them? For example, does the policy make it clear that there will be no spanking, humiliating, or excluding children? How does the program make sure that techniques are used in ways that are clear, consistent, and fair?

 

 

Does the program feel warm and welcoming? Are the children happily engaged in activities?

 

 

Do the adults seem to enjoy working with and caring for the children? Are they actively involved with the children and do they pay attention to the needs of each child?

 

 

Have all adults working in the program had state and national background checks, including fingerprinting?

Learn more about background checks for child care providers.

 

 

Have the adults in the program been trained on how to prevent child abuse and how to recognize and report the signs of abuse?

 

 

Is there someone present at all times who has been trained in pediatric first aid and CPR? Do staff know how to respond to an allergic reaction? Is there a first aid kit available? Are the adults in the program trained in how to prevent injuries?

Learn more about important health and safety trainings for adults working in child care programs.

 

 

Does the program have a clear, written plan to follow if a child is injured, sick, or lost?

 

 

Is there a written plan for responding to emergencies and disasters such as fire or flooding? Does the program conduct regular fire drills?

 

 

Five More Essential Questions: Work and Family Life

In addition to the 15 must-haves for your child’s health and safety, it is important to consider a few more key questions. These five basic questions will help you determine whether potential programs will work for your family.

Questions

Yes

No

Is the program open when you need it to be?

 

 

Is the program conveniently located for your family?

 

 

Does the program provide transportation that could help you get your child to and from the program or to and from school?

 

 

Can your family afford this program?

Learn more about programs to help your family afford care.

 

 

Does the program offer any discounts or scholarships, or participate in a child care assistance program?

 

 

Beyond the Must-Haves

In addition to the 15 must-haves and the 5 essential questions for your family above, during your visit look for and ask about these topics. Considering these additional questions will help you find a place where you feel comfortable leaving your child.

The questions below will help you learn more about the child care program’s practices, or what the provider actually does when caring for your child. Asking about a provider’s practices is one of the best ways to get information about whether the program is high quality and a good fit for your family.

  • Items to look for that impact your child’s health and safety. The questions in this section are about steps a program should take to keep your child safe.

  • Questions to ask about how well the child care program is managed. How a program is managed has a large impact on your family and your child.

  • How the child care program supports your child’s learning and development. Your child is always learning, and the child care program you choose must take important steps to encourage that learning.

  • What you should see and think about when watching how the staff interact with you and with your child. Children learn best when supported by a caring adult. When you are not there, how will the program interact with your child? How will that program interact with you to make sure you can get to work with peace of mind?

  • What to look for if your child is an infant. Infants require special care, and the adults caring for them should be trained in how to meet those needs.

  • Things to look for if you have an infant or child with a disability. A high-quality child care program knows how to meet the needs of each individual child and family.

Click here to download a printable version of all the topics and questions.

Look for evidence of a high-quality child care program by asking these questions and watching for the following when you visit a potential child care program.

Write your notes from your visit here.

Health and safety

 

Are children cared for in small groups with an appropriate number of adults present at all times?

Learn more about how group size affects your child and why smaller groups are better for your child.

 

Does the program maintain a list of who is allowed to pick up your child and check that list when your child is picked up?

 

Is the outside play area safe for children? Is the area enclosed and safe from traffic? Is the area clean, well maintained, and free of standing water?

See more about safe outdoor play areas.

 

Are nutritious snacks and meals provided to children at appropriate times? For example, children under 6 should be offered food every 2 to 3 hours. Food should be safe and developmentally appropriate—for example, no foods that are choking or allergy hazards.

Learn more about your child’s nutrition needs.

 

Have all enrolled children received their recommended immunizations—including your own child? Does the child care program keep records to show that all children are up to date on all their required immunizations?

 

If the program will transport your child, is there a signed permission slip in place? Are the vehicles used for transportation safe, registered, and insured? Are there appropriate car seats and seat belts available for each child? Is the driver a licensed and insured adult who has undergone a national and state background check that includes fingerprints?

 

Are the adults responsible for giving medication to children trained on how to do this safely? Are medications labeled to make sure the right child gets the right amount of the right medication at the right time? Are records kept to show when children received medication and how the medication was given?

 

Do the children and adults wash their hands frequently, especially after diaper changing or using the toilet, before and after eating or handling food, and when handling bodily fluids (such as wiping noses)?

 

Are toys, tables, toilets, and diapering surfaces cleaned and sanitized after use?

 

Has the building been checked for dangerous substances like lead and radon?

Learn more about the risks of lead poisoning.

Learn more about the risks of radon.

 

Does the program have a policy for when your child is ill?

 

Program management

 

Does the program participate in a quality rating and improvement system (QRIS), if available?

If yes, what is the program’s rating level?

Learn more about how a QRIS improves the quality of care for your child.

 

Is the program accredited by a national or state-recognized accrediting body? National accreditation is another good indicator of a high-quality program.

 

Have you seen and do you agree with the child care program’s contract and policies? Every high-quality child care program will have a written contract and policies.

Learn more about what should be included in a child care contract and policies.

 

Are there written personnel policies, job descriptions, and annual training plans for all adults working in the program?

 

Do staff receive annual performance evaluations, and will you be asked to complete an annual evaluation of the program and staff?

Does the program use the feedback from these evaluations to make decisions?

 

How often do the adults working in the program choose to stop working there? If staff frequently choose to stop working there, it can be a sign that the program is not well managed and that your child may not have consistent care. Having the care of a consistent, caring adult who knows your child’s individual needs is important.

If the program is in a family child care home, ask about how long the provider has been in business. You can also ask for contact information for other families who can provide a reference.

 

Your child’s learning and development

 

Are all areas well organized and are materials easy to use and easy for children to get to?

 

Do you see plenty of age-appropriate toys and items to encourage different kinds of play? For infants and toddlers, are there toys that promote learning? For example, toys that teach cause and effect and help promote coordination? For older children, are there different areas for different activities such as reading, art, and playing with toys?

Learn more about how play impacts your child’s learning.

 

Does the program have a planned schedule for each day and week that includes age-appropriate indoor and outdoor activities that encourage learning? Are there activities that prepare children to learn early reading, writing, math, and science? Do adults read to children or encourage children to explore books at least twice a day?

 

Will you get daily updates on how your child is doing and what he or she has been learning?

 

Does the program track children’s developmental milestones and will the program schedule regular time with you to discuss your child’s development, including annual conferences?

Learn more about developmental milestones and how you and your child care program can support your child’s development.

 

Which learning plan or curriculum does the program use? Is it based on research? Does it cover all areas of your child’s learning? How will this program make sure that the curriculum meets the individual needs of your child?

Learn more about how you and your child care program can support your child’s learning.

 

Interactions with children and families

 

Do the adults in the program seem to really know each child and respond to their individual needs? How will the program get to know you and your child, your goals for your child, and your routines at home?

 

How will the program support you and your child if being apart is difficult?

 

Do the adults talk with children throughout the day in a positive tone of voice, and sit or kneel down to be at the child’s level? Do they listen and respond to what each child says and how the child acts (verbal and nonverbal cues)?

 

Does the program support all cultures and languages spoken by children and families?

Does the program seem to respect and want to understand your family’s cultural values and traditions? Are there staff in the program that speak the same language you speak at home?

 

Do the adults in the program seem willing to develop a relationship with you and work with you to support your child’s development? Are they also willing to engage with your child’s other parent and family members involved in your child’s life?

 

Do the adults in the program celebrate children’s accomplishments?

 

Do you like the person who will be teaching and caring for your child?

 

Do you like how the program communicates and interacts with families?

 

Do you think you will feel comfortable having conversations with the teacher or program director about your child’s needs, how your child is doing, and if you have any concerns?

 

Does the program provide learning activities to take home and events that will include you and other family members? Are events scheduled at times when your family can attend?

Learn more about the importance of staying involved in your child’s program.

 

Do you agree with how the program handles discipline and challenging behaviors?

 

Does the program have a no-exclusion or no-expulsion policy? How will they work with you and your child to prevent expulsion or exclusion if your child displays challenging behaviors?

 

Care of infants

 

Is the schedule flexible to meet your baby’s unique needs for sleeping, eating, and playing?

 

Does the program practice safe sleep at all times? Will your infant sleep in a safe crib with a firm mattress, well-fitting sheet, and nothing else in the crib? Are staff trained on safe sleep?

 

Are caregivers talking and interacting with infants during times babies are awake, including during diapering, feeding, and play?

 

Do you feel that the caregivers will understand your child’s unique personality and preferences?

 

Do infants have supervised time playing on their tummies each day?

 

Are infants’ bottles clearly labeled with the child’s name and the date, and properly stored?

 

If you are breastfeeding, how will the program support you?

Learn about how your child care programs can support your breastfeeding.

 

How will the caretakers communicate with you each day about your child’s day including mood, eating, sleeping, and how they responded to your child’s needs

 

Are diaper-changing surfaces cleaned and disinfected after each use? Do staff wash their hands before and after each diapering?

 

Children with disabilities

 

Does the program change or adjust activities to make sure that children with disabilities can participate in all activities?

 

Have the adults in the program been trained on how to work with your child’s unique needs, or are they willing to get trained?

 

Do the program and the staff seem willing to work with your family to meet your child’s needs?

 

Is the program willing to partner with your child’s early intervention program or special education provider? Will they allow other providers to enter the classroom and make suggestions? How will you, the program, and your child’s other providers work together?

 

 

Portions of this checklist have been adapted from content originally created by Child Care Aware of America (Is This the Right Place for My Child? 38 Research-Based Indicators of Quality Child Care). The checklist also draws on the Parent Toolkit, from the U.S. Department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.