Selecting a child care provider can be confusing and stressful for parents. This holds true whether a parent is new to child care or is a daycare veteran making a change.

It’s never easy.

However, there are ways to make more informed decisions that can reduce anxiety and lead to the best possible child care fit. If you’re new to the child care game, these tips can help; if you’re a veteran looking for a change, this advice can be a refresher to ensure you check all your due diligence boxes.

Here are six tips for choosing the right child care provider:

1. Review The Child Care Provider’s Credentials
Child care providers vary. You’ll find in-home providers, big brand day care centers and pre-school settings. No matter the provider type, you must request and check their credentials before placing your child in its care. From the Goddard School and La Petite Academy to in-home care provided by a single person, licenses, state certifications, and other safety credentials are a must.

Certifications and credentials can vary by state, but the vast majority of legitimate day care providers should meet the following standards:

  • All staff or individual providers should hold a minimum of a GED or high school diploma. Many of the larger child care centers will have staff with associates or college degrees and perhaps teaching/early childhood education certificates.
  • The provider should have a state license to operate. The paperwork should be displayed. If it’s not displayed you can request to see their state licensing paperwork, including their letter of compliance and certificate of registration.
  • The provider and most staff (if a larger facility) should be certified in CPR and first aid.
  • The location, whether a large facility or private home, must comply with zoning and safety regulations. Paperwork should be available to support location approval by the state.
  • All staff members, administrators, and even family members living in a private residence providing care must have passed a background check.

Note: It’s very important to note that licenses and requirements vary from state to state. Please check with your state’s regulations before starting your child care provider search. The questions above are a good starting point but there might be additional questions to ask depending on where you live.

2. Ask About Communication
Working parents, and especially two-income households, need excellent, prompt, and clear communication when it comes to their children. Whether it’s sports, playdates, or child care, busy parents need to know what’s happening, what’s changed, and what’s ahead, without having to work hard to find out.

Ask a potential daycare provider about how and when they communicate. Items you might want to ask about are as follows:

  • What is your primary means of communication?
  • How do I contact you if I’m going to be late or if there’s an emergency?
  • How do I receive weather and closing updates?
  • What kind of evaluations and progress reports do I receive on a regular basis and how are these delivered?

You’ll find some providers are “old school” and prefer calling you if anything occurs or is needed. You’ll have to evaluate whether you’re comfortable with the delays this could cause if you can’t answer the phone at work.

You’ll find some providers are more modern, deploying technology to push real-time notifications to your phone and other devices, thereby reaching you even in the midst of a staff meeting.

The reality is that communication technology like private and secure social networks are available to child care providers of all shapes and sizes these days. And sometimes for free. Using technology to provide parents with real-time updates and to connect you with other parents in the community can be a huge difference maker in achieving consistent work-life balance.

3. Assess The Day Care Provider’s Privacy Policies
If your child care center, pre-school, or in-home provider does use social media for communications ask about their privacy policies. You should ask this question in general, but the greatest safety risk could be through social media settings left open to public viewing.

It’s fairly common for providers to ask parents if they can share photos of their children online or with media outlets. It’s far less common for parents to ask about a provider’s social media use privacy and safety policies. In some cases, providers could leave their social network platforms open to the public because they simply don’t know what they don’t know. This is usually the case but it’s still not acceptable and needs to be remedied.

The safest and best choice is to find a provider that not only uses social networking to communicate but also does so on a completely private and secure technology platform. With recent scandals surrounding Facebook and other social networks selling or inadvertently sharing data, you want to be certain your child’s activities and images are secure and private always.

4. Understand Their Disciplinary & Illness Policies
Everyone employs a different parenting style. It’s unlikely that you’ll find a perfect match with your discipline philosophy. That said, some alignment in this area is critical to your child’s development and your provider relationship. Be sure to ask what the provider’s philosophy is and how it’s applied. Talk to other parents to verify what you’re told.

In addition, ask questions about their illness policy, i.e. when a child has to be picked up. Different providers might have different tolerances for illness. Make sure you clearly understand illness policy or this could be a tremendous source of frustration, particularly if there is inconsistency and you have to leave work in the middle of the day unnecessarily.

Do your due diligence to see if the disciplinary approach and illness policies are a reasonable fit.

5. Ask About Their Staff/Provider To Child Ratio
It’s not likely that you’ll see the entire group of kids when you visit a daycare center or at- home provider. State regulations vary, but you need to understand the ratio between providers and children in the program. In Maryland, for example, the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) has very specific and detailed regulations about staff to child ratios, including what that means for mixed-age groups.

Ideally, you want to understand that your child will get the care he or she needs. First, understand that the day care provider is following the law. Then, try and find a provider with the best provider/staff to child ratio overall. It’s a delicate balance, as in-home providers might have a better ratio but fewer resources and tools than a larger child care chain like La Petite Academy, for example.

6. Ask About Unannounced Drop-Ins
If a potential daycare provider forbids or is resistant to unannounced parent drop-ins there’s a problem. This is a major red flag.

When it comes to child care, it’s okay to be a bit cynical about what you see on your scheduled tour. You know the provider wants your business and they’ll certainly make every effort to look their best in front of you.

A confident, professional day care provider will encourage unannounced drop-ins during business hours. They’ll also encourage you to volunteer when you can. If that’s the case, take them up on it: stop by without notifying them to evaluate if what you saw during the scheduled tour aligns with what you observe on a surprise visit.

Note: Once you select a provider and establish some trust, repeat unannounced visits can damage your relationship. Be selective about how you use this tool after the initial evaluation phase.

By focusing on the areas listed in this blog you can reduce your stress level and have greater confidence in your child care provider choice. Remember, there is no perfect child care fit–it’s about finding the right balance of philosophies and services while ensuring your child spends his or her days in a nurturing, development-focused, private and safe environment.

More and more child care providers are adopting Go2s group, a completely private and secure social network platform, to provide real-time parent communications and anywhere, anytime access to important day care documents, event calendars, volunteer assignments, and messaging with other day care community parents. Check out our website to learn more about Go2s and how it can help you more efficiently manage a variety of activities.