Tools To Find the Right Child Care
Finding quality child care is important for your child’s safety, development and your own peace of mind. The first step in the search is to develop a list of criteria — the factors you’re looking for. Then you can find providers who meet your requirements. Below are some tools to help.
Along with your obvious needs, such as hours of care, cost and location, you will want to make sure the child care center or home:
- Is licensed by the state
- Provides a safe environment
- Offers age-appropriate activities andequipment
- Follows good health practices such as washing hands before snack time
- Adheres to appropriate staff-to-child ratios
- Addresses your child’s development through its curriculum
- Has a well-trained and caring staff
- Has experience dealing with any special needs your child may have.
Several resources can help you decide what to look for and what questions to ask when exploring child care options.
- ChildCareAware: Child Care 101
- KidsHealth: Choosing Child Care
- Pennsylvania Dept. of Public Welfare: Four Steps to Choosing a Child Care Provider and Child Care Checklist
Once you know what you’re looking for, state agencies can help you find child care providers that meet your needs.
NEW JERSEY: Resource and Referral Agencies
Each county in New Jersey has a child care resource and referral agency that will help you, free of charge.
Phyllis Sanders, resource coordinator for the Camden County Department of Children’s Services, says, “We ask questions such as geographical area, age of child, whether they want a center or home provider, hours of care and any particular needs. The interview takes about 15 minutes. We then do our best to provide at least three referrals based on their criteria. We do not recommend or choose for them, though.”
Sanders says her agency will also provide a packet of materials about quality indicators, financial assistance and other information to help guide parents through the process.
NJ Local Resource and Referral Agencies
PENNSYLVANIA: CCIS Agencies and Online Search
The Pennsylvania’s Child Care Information Services (CCIS) agencies provide assistance, free of charge. When you call or visit a local CCIS agency, a representative can generate a list of providers that meet your criteria.
Connie Whitson, executive director of CCIS of Montgomery County, says, “We don’t recommend; we refer. We do an interview and parents give us information about what they’re looking for, such as hours of care needed, geographic location, accreditations they’d like the organization to have, information about their child like allergies and other needs. We will then provide them with a list of providers who meet that profile. We can also provide information about financial assistance.”
Pennsylvania also offers an online child care search that allows parents to select criteria such as hours of operation, languages spoken and special accommodations.
PA Local CCIS Agencies
Several associations accredit child care providers based on high-level standards such as the qualifications of the staff, a safe and healthy environment and developmentally appropriate curriculum.
Each of these associations provides online geographical searches for programs with their accreditations on their websites. They include:
- The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) which is the largest accrediting organization of early age education
- The National Association of Family Child Care (NAFCC) which accredits home care providers
- The Middle States Association Commission on Elementary Schools (MSCES) which now accredits early childhood programs in several states including Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania
You can search several print and online directories of child care providers, such as the MetroKids Early Education Directory. The online version is searchable by location and provides general information about programs and links to providers’ websites if they have one.
Once you’ve identified a few child care providers that seem to fit your needs, call and arrange a visit with your questions in hand.
“Nothing replaces an in-person visit,” says Marlene Weinstein, director of early age education at MSCES. “You want to see warm and responsive interactions between the teachers and children in a healthy, safe, appropriately stimulating environment.”
“Don’t rely solely on any accreditation,” says Whitson. “Go and see the classroom. Every place has its own feel. You know your child. What fits for your child?”
Susan Stopper is a contributing writer to MetroKids.