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When it comes to making a decision about child care, families must factor many things beyond cost. Here are some steps and tools to help make the search easier and more effective.

  • Visit the child care program and interview staff.
  • Ask questions that require more than simple “yes” or “no” answers and talk to the staff as well as the director.
  • It helps to take notes so you don’t forget what has been said.
  • Don’t commit yourself immediately after the interview is over. In most cases, you will not have observed or done reference checks yet, and it can be helpful to give yourself time to reflect upon your choice.
  • Having some specific questions ready to ask each child care provider at the site visit can help you in making your final selection.

Family Guide to Evaluating Child Care

Remember that child care is a “people” job. The person caring for your child is the most important ingredient to consider when making child care choices.

Observing the provider and the program is very important.

  • How does it “feel” when you walk in?
  • How does the caregiver interact with the children?
  • Is she/he respectful, caring and patient?
  • Do the children seem genuinely attached to her/him?
  • Do the other children seem relaxed, happy, and busy interacting with the environment?
  • Find out how open and frequent communication is maintained, and how information about your child’s emotional and physical “special happenings” are reported to you each day. You and your provider should consider yourselves partners who share responsibility for your child’s welfare.

Here are some examples of the kinds of questions to ask:

  • What do you (your center) do to help a child adjust to his/her first day?
  • What do you do when a child cries?
  • What experiences have prepared you for working with babies/children? (In centers, ask this of the staff as well as the director.)
  • How do you structure your day? How do you accommodate the changing schedules of an infant?
  • How do you deal with discipline? How would you react if you saw my child bite another child? How would I find out if you were having problems with my child?
  • How do you meet the individual needs of each child, including children with special needs or disabilities?
  • Ask staff in a center: How long have you worked in this program?
  • Ask family child care providers: How long have you been licensed?
  • Ask any provider in home-based care: How long do you intend to continue to provide child care? What training have you had?
  • What is your procedure for handling an emergency? How have you dealt with an emergency in the past?
    How do you involve parents?
  • What hours do you provide care?
  • Do you participate in Quality Counts San Mateo County?

In your interview, determine the provider's policy on:

  • Toilet-training
  • Plans for provider vacation, illness
  • Fee payment
  • Personal items
  • Bottle weaning
  • Use of playpens, swings, etc.
  • Pacifiers
  • Who provides food?
  • Television
  • Safety
  • Demand-feeding
  • Napping
  • Who supplies diapers?
  • Field trips
  • Care of sick children
  • Discipline
  • Play & learning activities
  • Diet/nutrition
  • Transporting children