Finding Child Care: Questions to Ask
Start looking for child care options as far in advance as you can. Finding the right option can take some time. The first steps in selecting child care are to determine your needs and a list of potential providers. After that is done, you can begin to narrow down your choices by interviewing providers. Although most of the following information applies to family and center care, you could also use it for any child care situation.
Consider more than one child care provider. Even if you like the first one you visit, it’s useful to compare your impressions with others. The more time you spend on this important decision, the more likely you will be happy with your choice.
Call your local agency that licenses family and center care, or child care resource and referral agency. Ask about licensing requirements in your area. Ask how you can get information about complaints and licensing violations. Check if your family qualifies for any child care financial assistance program.
Interviewing providers over the phone can be an efficient way to gather information. When you call, introduce yourself, state how you got the provider’s name, and your reason for calling. If it is a center, ask to speak with the director. Ask if this is a good time to call and if there is an opening.
Give the provider your name, as well as the name, age, and sex of your child and when care is needed. Tell them that you’d like 10-15 minutes of their time to answer a few questions. The following list of questions can be used to check off as you interview the provider.
- Do you have an opening?
- What are your hours?
- Caregiver qualifications — Are you licensed? If so, how long have you been licensed? Training? Education? Experience?
- How many children do you care for? What are their ages and sex?
- How many children are full-time? How many are part-time?
- What is your vacation and illness policy?
- What are your fees? If it is a center, are there sliding fees?
- Are you a member of the food program (the federally funded Child Care Food Program-CCFP)?
- What training or experience do you have?
- Do you smoke?
- Do you have pets?
In addition, you can ask the following questions in either a telephone or face-to-face interview.
- Tell me about yourself. How did you decide to become a provider? What do you like most about being a provider? How long do you plan to be one? Does your family support your business?
- Can you describe what a typical day might be like for my child?
- How do you handle emergencies?
- Do you have infant and child cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training? Do you carry liability insurance?
- Are children ever transported in a vehicle while in your care? If so, do you have a valid driver’s license and what is your driving record?
- Can parents "drop in" for a visit?
- Describe the feedback I will receive about my child at the end of the day.
- How many days did parents need to use alternative care this past year?
- What are some things you hope my child will learn here?
- What would you do if you and I disagreed about something?
- How much staff turnover has there been in the past year?
- What do you want to know about me (and/or my partner and child)?
- Can you provide a list of references?
There are also several questions related to the age of your child that you should ask. These include the following:
- Do you hold infants during feeding?
- How much time do infants spend in the crib, play pen, and/or walker?
- Describe how you would play with my infant.
- Describe how you deal with parent/child separation.
- What will I be expected to provide?
- What type of diapers would you prefer? Can I use cloth?
- Describe how you discipline.
- Describe how you would handle toilet teaching.
- Describe organized activities you provide for the children.
Visit the child care option you are considering. Even if you like the way a provider answered your questions over the phone, don’t stop there. Ask when you (and your partner) could meet with the provider to gather more information and to allow them to interview you. This will also give you a chance to observe the provider(s) in action and inspect the site. Here are a few more questions to ask:
- Can you show me the equipment and toys you have?
- Where do children nap?
- What health precautions do you take? Show me how you have child-proofed your home.
- What are your house rules?
- Can I see your contract?
Pay Attention to Your Observations
Trust your instincts when you interview the provider. Any strong negative feelings are usually a sign that this arrangement will not work for you and your child. On the other hand, if you can make the following conclusions, chances are you've found quality care.
The provider appears to love children and seems to be a warm and friendly person that you think you could develop a respectful, trusting relationship with.
The provider seems to show a balance between running a business and nurturing the children.
The children you observed seemed happy. The provider understands what children can and like to do at different ages and provides opportunities to help them develop. Your child’s self-esteem would benefit from the care.
There appears to be a comfortable, safe, and healthy environment for the children.
Making Your Final Choice
Take time to think carefully about all the information you have gathered. You may have to compromise some of your expectations to fit the available choices. But don’t give too much up. You can always re-think your options. Once you decide, contact the provider as soon as possible to reserve space. If the provider does not give you a written policy and contract, be sure to clarify your agreement in writing.
Make a follow-up appointment with the provider to review arrangements and to sign any necessary forms. You may want to schedule a two-week trial arrangement. If you take this extra time up front, you will be less likely to experience any unpleasant surprises later. And most importantly, your child may also be happier in the child care you have selected.
Child Care Aware (2013). 5 steps to choosing care. Arlington, VA: Child Care Aware of America, Office of Child Care, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Quality Child Care: How Do I Know It When I See It? — Finding out about all the options open to you is only the first step in selecting child care.