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Home > Practice Areas > Child Care and Development > Child Care Information Center


Picking the Right Fit

Which child care is right for my child and family?

  1. Research. Start by exploring the child care options available to you:
    • Check with your local librarian.

    • Ask friends, relatives, and neighbors about their child care experiences in your area.

    • Look through a local telephone directory under "Child Care," or search by your SIP Code on or

    Start looking early to prevent rushed decisions and guarantee more options--popular programs tend to fill up fast. For more information on finding child care options in your area, click here.

  2. Ask. Once you are familiar with your child care options, ask your child care resource and referral agency

    • about licensing requirements in your state,

    • where you can obtain information about licensing violations and complaints, and

    • whether your family qualifies for financial assistance with child care.

    • Click here for information on child care resources and help in your state and area. This link is useful especially for those who do not have access to a child care resource and referral agency, because it gives contact information for other people and organizations in your area that can answer questions about child care.

  3. Evaluate. Determine which of the available child care options are consistent with your family's needs. Would you prefer care in your own home, or is your child ready to explore other environments? Which places are convenient for you? Decide which child care providers meet your criteria.

  4. Visit child care providers in your area that meet your family's needs. It's most helpful to visit child care facilities during transitional times of day, such as after lunch or after naptime, to see how smoothly these more stressful times are handled. Here are some questions to keep in mind to help guide your observations in each facility:
    • Do the children look happy to be there?

    • What types of activities are the children involved in?

    • How do teachers handle conflicts between children?

    • Is the space clean, organized, and well lit?

    • Is the facility's equipment (climbing gear, tables and chairs, kitchen appliances, diaper-changing stations, etc.) in working order? Is the equipment used when appropriate?

    Aside from personal observations, it's helpful to ask the facility's director or head teacher:

    • Is the facility licensed (if, according to your state, a license is necessary for their type of facility)?

    • What is the adult-to-child ratio and group size in the facility? The smaller the adult-to-child ratio, the more attention each child receives from caregivers. Group size is also important--a group of six infants and two adults is much better equipped for quality care than a group of 12 infants and 4 adults. Following are safe ratios and group sizes, organized by age group.

      AgeChild-staff ratioMaximum group size
      Birth-12 months    3:16
      13-24 months3:16
      25-30 months4:18
      31-35 months5:110
      3 years7:114
      4 years8:116
      5 years8:116
      6-8 years10:120
      9-12 years12:124
      Source: Fiene, R. (2002). 13 Indicators of Quality Child Care: Research Update. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Located online, August 30, 2005.

    • What are the caregiver 's qualifications? Highly trained caregivers are better equipped with knowledge to nourish children in physical, emotional, intellectual, and social aspects of development. Program directors also need to be trained in order to run a program smoothly.

    • What is the facility's staff turnover rate? How long have primary caregivers been working at the facility? Facilities that retain staff well make it easier for children to form lasting relationships with their caregivers--an important component of healthy development. Additionally, a low turnover rate may be a sign of a healthy environment where teachers and caregivers enjoy working. High turnover may be hard on your child and may point to the staff's dissatisfaction with the facility.

    • Is the facility accredited? Accreditation is not mandatory for any child care facility, but it shows a voluntary commitment to quality that state licensing does not guarantee. For information on various accrediting organization click here

  5. Choose and Stay Involved. Pick the child care facility that fits your family best, and establish a relationship with the caregiver(s). As your child begins to get used to this new environment, it's important that she or he feel the continuous presence of her or his parent(s) or guardian(s) within the context of child care. This's why it's valuable to talk to your child about her or his experiences in child care and to ask the provider regularly about your child's progress.

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