As a working parent, choosing who will care for your child when you are at work is one of the most important decisions you will make. These steps will help you find a child care provider you can trust.
Begin as soon as possible. Many child care centers have long waiting lists, so it is never too early to start looking. If you are pregnant, start looking for child care for after your baby is born.
Determine whether you are eligible for child care subsidies. Often there is a waiting period for these funds, and they are only accepted by certain child care providers. You can find information about child care subsidies at the Administration for Children and Families website at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ccb/parents/index.htm.
Define your most basic child care needs. How many children need care? How old are they? What hours do you need care? Where should the child care provider be located? When does your child need to start?
Define higher-level needs. What are the most important features of a child care provider? Does your child have special needs, like nutritional concerns or disabilities? Do you want a child care provider that implements an educational curriculum? Do you prefer a larger playground? Do you prefer mixed-age classes or same-age classes? Do you prefer a center that provides meals or do you want to provide all of your child's food? Is it important for a center to be close to your home or work?
Separate your higher-level needs into two lists: absolute necessities and preferences.
Ask friends for recommendations for child care providers.
Search online for child care providers. Most states have searchable lists of providers that give information such as hours of operation, age of children accepted, total number of children allowed in the center, and whether they accept state child care subsidies.
Build a list based on recommendations and online searches.
Call the centers on the list to ask basic questions about the needs you have defined, available space, and the cost of attendance. Take good notes while you are on the phone so that you can keep the information straight.
Decide which centers you would like to visit and make appointments to tour the facilities.
On your tour, meet the child care providers for your child's age group, and if possible, observe the children interacting with each other and with the providers. Bring a list of questions to ask the staff members.
Decide which provider or providers seem to be the best fit for your child, and make a surprise visit. You should check in with a staff member as soon as you arrive and try not to disturb the children or caregivers. Good providers have an open door policy for parents that allows you to observe caregivers without making an appointment or calling ahead.
Select one provider that you believe is the best fit, and make one more visit with your child this time. If possible, make arrangements for you child to play with the other children or sit in on a lesson.
Once your child is officially enrolled, maintain close relationships with the staff. Try to make extra time when you drop-off and pick-up your child to chat with the caregivers and observe your child's interaction with them and the other children.
If your child seems nervous or cries when he or she starts child care, do not assume that the provider is bad or that you have made the wrong choice to use day care. Children, like adults, need time to adjust to new environments. Continue observing your child's behavior, asking your child how he or she feels, and asking the caregivers about your child's day.