No two child care facilities are exactly alike. From a large child care center to a neighbor’s home to care in your own living room—many choices are open to parents seeking quality child care. Knowing the types of child care available and how they can best meet the needs of both you and your child are the first steps in making the right choice.
Child care centers are required to be licensed in California. Infants, toddlers, preschool, or school-age children may all receive care at a child care center. Centers are usually located in schools, religious facilities, public buildings, or private buildings. A center may be a part of a large child care corporation or it may be locally owned. Some centers focus on a specific teaching method, such as High Scope, Montessori, or Waldorf. Center programs tend to be organized around the care and education of a larger group of children.
Separate licenses are required to care for infants, preschoolers, and school-age children, although a center may be licensed to care for all three age groups at one site. Depending on their age, children receive care in separate areas at the center for safety and activity reasons.
The staffing ratios for child care programs are established by the State of California to provide minimum standards for adult supervision at a child care center. Ratios of caregivers to children vary depending on the age of the child and the number of trained staff members present. When looking at a child care center ask:
- How many trained staff members care for infants and preschoolers?
- Find out the number of trained staff that supervise school-age children.
- Contact your local resource and referral agency and licensing office to double-check the staff-to-child ratio. Call 1-800-KIDS-793 for the agencies in your area.
Staffing ratios, or the number of staff per child, are a very important factor to consider when choosing quality child care. A ratio establishes a minimum standard a provider must follow to receive and retain a child care license. There are also many types of child care licenses, and the ratios are different depending upon the age of the children and the number of adults. Make sure you feel comfortable with the number of children being cared for by the provider. For more information about ratios, contact the Community Care Licensing Office at 916-229-4500 for help.
Qualified teachers for centers that care for infants or preschoolers must have completed at least twelve units of early childhood education, including three units of Infant/Toddler coursework. For teachers in centers with a license for school-age children, the units may be in multiple education subjects or recreation-related fields appropriate for the care of older children. Additionally, employees of centers may be a part of several professional organizations and/or may attend continuing professional education courses.
Points to consider in choosing a child care center
- Environment: How many caregivers will be with your child in a day or week? Are there plenty of interesting toys and materials for your child to play with? Is the center organized so your child can find things easily? Are the children smiling and happy?
- Values: What are the provider’s philosophy and values? How does the provider discipline children? How does the provider individualize learning activities, nap, mealtime, and toilet training?
- Communication: How does the center staff share information about your child’s progress and daily activities? Can you visit at any time? How is discipline handled?
- Staff: How long have the caregivers worked at the center? What is the staff turnover? Are the management’s and caregivers’ values the same? Does the staff seem relaxed and responsive to the children’s needs?
- Parent Involvement: Are you welcome to participate in the child care program? Are you required to volunteer? Does staff encourage your input on how well your child is doing? How is your child’s progress shared with you?
- Education: What type of experience, education, and credentials do the caregivers have? Is the center a member of the NAEYC?
- Licensing: What type of license does the center have? Can your child attend from infancy to school-age? Did you contact Community Care Licensing to check on any previous complaints? Location: How convenient is it for you from your work, home, bus route, and/or health care provider? Cost: Can you afford the monthly tuition? Is there an additional registration fee? Is there a family discount? Does the center charge a fee for late pickup? Are there any other costs for materials, field trips, or books?
- Evaluation: Does the program staff have a process of determining what they are doing well and what needs to be worked on?