Father and Daughter Coloring While Mother is on Computer

You want your child to be safe, healthy, happy, and learning, both with you and in the care of others. How you want your child to be cared for is extremely important. When you know that your child is being cared for in the way you want, you will have more peace of mind when you’re away.

Child care licensing regulations tell you a lot about how a licensed provider will care for your child. Before choosing a child care provider, you can get information from several places. In addition to visiting and asking questions, you can check a provider’s license, view their inspection history, and find their quality rating (if available). Depending on your state, you may be able to do these tasks online. Our state resources page can give you more information about these topics and provides an online child care search link to your state which may also displays some of this information in provider listings when possible if your state makes that information publically available.

Other things that are not covered by licensing regulations may be equally important to your child care decision. A child care program’s policies, procedures, and contract will help give you a picture of how your child will be cared for.


You will want to have a signed contract with your provider before starting care. The contract should include things you’ve agreed on with your child care provider. This includes your child’s schedule, the rates and fees that you will be charged, who is approved to pick up your child, how vacations are handled, and what you must do if you want to stop care.

In addition to a signed contract, your provider should have written policies for other important situations. This includes things like illness, discipline, emergencies, and transportation. Below we’ll discuss what should be included in contracts and policies and why they are so important.

Child Care Contracts

Mother and Young Son Reading Outside in GrassA contract provides details about the partnership between you and your child care provider, and can help prevent misunderstandings. Some items you find in a child care contract may also be included in the child care provider’s policies.

Here are some things that you can expect to see in your child care contract:

  • Costs: The rate you will pay, frequency of payment (for example, weekly or monthly), and any additional fees should be specified

  • When payment is due and acceptable forms of payment

  • Late fees

  • Hours of operation

  • Days the program may be closed, and whether payment is required for those days

  • Termination policy: You should agree on how much notice is required if you or the provider should choose to terminate your child care agreement

  • Parent and provider signatures

Child Care Policies and Procedures

When visiting a potential child care program, you should receive a copy of their policies and procedures. If the provider does not offer this information, ask for it! You want to make sure you agree with the way your child will be cared for.

Quality child care programs have written policies and procedures available. Some may put this information together in a parent handbook. Some providers may also ask you to sign a statement that shows you have been provided a copy of the policies and procedures. Even if you don’t need to sign a statement, it is important that you review the policies and procedures with your provider to make sure you are in agreement.

It is important that the information be in writing. Having the information in writing is a great sign that a provider has put time and effort into deciding how they will care for children and operate their business. Additionally, written policies and procedures need to be available to all staff and volunteers so they can understand and follow them.

Many topics may be covered in a child care program’s policies and procedures. The following list outlines some of the things you should look for:

  • Open-door policy: You should be allowed to visit your child care provider anytime care is offered. Make sure your provider allows you to visit unannounced anytime your child is there.

  • Program hours of operation

  • Drop-off and pick-up policies: This should include who can pick up your child from the program and how that is monitored. It also may include information about fees for late pick-ups.

  • Holidays, severe weather, and emergency closings: Be sure you are able to see which days the program is planning to close. You’ll want to know if the program closes for holidays that you’re required to work or for severe weather that may be common to your area. It’s also important to know how you’ll be notified of unplanned closures.

  • Emergency preparedness plans: Emergencies such as natural disasters may cause child care programs to close down temporarily. An emergency closure can take place while your child is in care. How will you be notified of closures and the plan to reopen? Is the provider able to adequately care for your child if you are unable to reach him or her for several hours or even days? If the facility must be evacuated because of an emergency, do you know where to pick up your child? All these questions should be addressed in a written emergency plan. This plan may be a part of the policies and procedures, or it may be a separate document.

  • Fire drills: Fire drills are necessary to ensure that children and staff know how to safely get out in case of a fire. Ask to see the program’s fire drill log.

  • Sick-child policies: When is your child too sick to be with other children and required to stay home? Some programs are able to provide care for mildly sick children in a way that does not put other children at risk. However, many programs do not offer sick child care. This means that you’d need other care arrangements when your child is sick.

  • Fees and payment arrangements: Look for information about the rate for your child’s schedule and age group. You should also see any required fees for registration, materials, field trips, and other costs. Available discounts and accepted fee assistance programs should also be noted.

  • Forms required for enrollment: These may include registration forms, emergency contact information, permission for field trips, and medical records.

  • Expulsion and exclusion policies: Programs may have their own expulsion and exclusion policies, or the state you live in may have a policy that licensed child care programs are required to follow. It is important to know what these policies are.

  • Daily schedule: Look for a schedule that meets your child’s needs. Things like naptimes, meals and snacks, outdoor play, and free play are typically included in the daily schedule. The daily schedule should fit the age of your child and be flexible enough to meet the needs of the children in care. Ask how the daily schedule supports your child’s learning and development.

  • Curriculum: A provider may follow a specific learning or teaching philosophy or curriculum. Be sure that learning opportunities are planned every day and that they are appropriate for your child’s age and development.

  • Communication: How will you find out about your child’s day? Are regular meetings planned? Will your provider check in with you regularly about your child’s development and progress?

  • Alternate care and substitute caregivers: What is the policy for substitutes or alternate care when your child’s primary caregiver is not able to be there?

  • Discipline and guidance: You should see policies preventing physical punishment, such as spanking, or shaming, yelling at, or embarrassing children. Look for policies that encourage positive guidance. This means that the guidance is fitting for your child’s development. It also focuses on teaching appropriate behaviors rather than punishing bad behavior.

  • Food and nutrition: Providers may provide meals and snacks, or they may ask parents to pack food for their children. If the provider serves meals and snacks, ask to view the provider’s weekly menu. The child care provider’s menu should provide healthy meals and snacks that follow federal nutrition guidelines. If meals and snacks are not provided, ask the provider if there are types of food that are not allowed in the facility (for example, many programs are nut-free), so that you can make sure the meals and snacks you pack for your child follow the program’s policies.

  • Allergies: Make sure your provider knows about any allergies your child has. Ask your provider how children with allergies are protected. Make sure there is a system to let other staff and volunteers know about your child’s allergies.

  • Required immunizations: Immunizations are critical to keeping your child, and the other children in the child care program, healthy. Learn more about why immunizations are so important.

  • Medication: Providers should have written policies about how and when they give medication. This should include the steps that they will take to ensure that medication is given correctly.

  • Parent engagement and involvement: Are parents encouraged to participate in activities? Are there opportunities to be involved in designing program policies, activities, and materials? Including parents can help ensure that all children’s home cultures and languages are welcomed, honored, and celebrated. Your involvement can build a better relationship with your provider, promote quality improvement, and support your child’s learning and development.

  • Transportation policies: If you child care provider will be driving your child in a bus or a car, ensure that the drivers are licensed and insured. You should also be sure that the vehicle is in good working order and that your child will be buckled in with the right kind of car seat, booster seat, or seat belt depending on your child’s size and age.

  • Field trips: Will your child be taken on field trips? When and where will those field trips occur? You’ll want to ensure that enough adults attend to supervise the children and that any drivers are licensed and insured.

  • Safe sleep practices: If you have an infant under the age of 12 months, it is critical that your child care provider has a safe place for your baby to sleep. It is also essential that everyone in the program always follows safe sleep recommendations. Ask to see where your child will sleep and ask about how the provider will handle your infant’s nap time. Make sure there are enough safe and sturdy cribs for each infant present and that there is a snug-fitting sheet on the mattress and nothing else is in the crib. Make sure your baby will be placed in the crib for sleeping and not left in a car seat, bouncy seat, or infant swing. Unless you have a doctor’s order, make sure that your baby will be laid on his or her back. To learn the latest information about safe sleep environments, see these resources from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

  • Breastfeeding support: If you are breastfeeding, ask to see your provider’s policies on supporting breastfeeding. In addition, look for steps the provider takes to make sure infants always get the right breast milk. To learn more about how your child care provider can support your breastfeeding, see information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Office.


This text has been adapted from content originally created by Child Care Aware of America Grant #90LH002 for the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Office of Child Care (OCC).