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Choosing Quality Child Care

Care About Quality was published by the California Department of Education in 2000.
While the many choices and varying advice regarding child care may seem overwhelming, in the end your feelings will help you choose your provider.

Your local child care resource and referral (R&R) agency offers a wealth of information right at your fingertips—and it’s free. Child care resource and referral agencies are located in every county in California. Take a look at what resource and referral agencies offer.


  • Provide parents, organizations, and leaders with information about child care and assist in planning for future child care needs.
  • Maintain the most up-to-date and accurate list of child care providers in your community, including licensed family child care homes and child care centers.
  • Track child care providers’ licensing status, the languages the providers speak, the age groups of children they serve, the schedules they offer, and the number of spaces available in family child care homes or centers.
  • Work with providers to improve the quality of child care and to maintain and expand the number of child care providers needed in your county.
  • Provide training and other services that help providers stay in business.
  • Teach parents, organizations, and leaders about child care and how to plan for future child care issues and needs.

Your local child care resource and referral agency is just a call away. By dialing 1-800-KIDS-793, you can get the phone number of your county’s resource and referral agency. Your local R&R will help you take the first steps in finding quality child care.

Parent Tip

Research shows when your child receives high-quality child care, she has a better chance of success in school, academically and socially, and in life! Above all, measure quality child care by whether there is a warm, positive relationship between the child and the caregiver and whether there is a safe, healthy, and stimulating learning environment.

Taking the first steps in your decision

  • Write down what you want from your child care provider. Think about what your child may also want. Ask her, if she is old enough.
  • Talk to the staff at your local resource and referral agency, read parenting publications, and ask trusted friends and co-workers for references on child care providers and programs.
  • Think about what you can afford. Check into any child care financial assistance through the State or your employer. What will your monthly budget allow?
  • Interview caregivers on the phone. Ask about staff-to-child ratios, costs, the learning opportunities offered, and whether the provider is licensed. Use the checklists in this guide to help you make your choice. Remember, there may be times in the day when a child care provider is unable to speak with you because she is caring for children. You may be asked to call back at a certain time or to stop by and visit.
Parent Tip

One of the best sources in finding quality child care is through the resource and referral (R&R) agencies. These agencies provide child care referrals and a variety of information to all parents as well as the community about the availability of child care within all counties in California. The R&Rs also assist potential providers in the licensing process, offer information about training for caregivers, and promote quality services in early care and education programs.

The visit

A visit provides more information than any phone conversation. Make sure you visit while the provider is offering child care. Look around the child care facility or home:

  • What is your first impression? Are the children smiling, active, and nurtured?
  • Is this a place where you want your child to spend his waking and sleeping hours? Will your child like being here? Would your child feel safe?
  • Would your child find the indoor and outdoor space of this home or center a fun place to play, learn, and explore?
  • How many caregivers and children are there?
  • Is the provider licensed, and if so, how many children is she licensed for?
  • Are parents encouraged to visit at any time and without notice?
  • Does the provider have a business contract or something in writing that explains how the provider operates? Are fees, vacations, sick days, and hours of operation included in the agreement?
  • What happens if the provider is no longer able to offer care? Does the provider have a “back-up” caregiver in case she is ill?
  • Are the equipment and toys safe and materials age-appropriate?
  • Is there a comfortable and quiet place for children to play or relax away from others?
  • Are there activities that will interest your child and keep her busy?
  • Does the child care setting seem organized? Are there cubbies or color-coded crates with a variety of toys and art materials?
  • Does the provider share information with you regarding your child’s progress?
  • Is the child care setting rich with books, letters and numbers, paper, and other supplies?
  • Are the provider’s values consistent with your own?
  • When and how is television used?
  • Is parent input and involvement encouraged?
  • How are birthdays or special occasions celebrated? Do the celebrations include your child’s and others cultural backgrounds?

Depending on the age of your child, there are several types of child care you may need to consider. The following provides a description of settings from infant to school-age child care.

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Infant and toddler care

When looking for quality care for infants and toddlers, look for a provider who seems to enjoy your child by talking and interacting with her in a warm, friendly way. It is important that your little one is included in activities but stays safe when around older children. Keep these questions in mind when looking for quality infant and toddler care:

  • Does the provider keep a clean diaper changing area which can be disinfected after every diaper change?
  • Does she wash her hands after every diaper change and between diaper changes?
  • What are the sleeping arrangements? Where are cribs located?
  • What experience has the provider had with infants and toddlers?
  • Who supplies the diapers? Formula? Baby food?
  • How is your infant fed? Is she held and cuddled with every bottle feeding?  Fed on her own schedule?
  • Does the provider encourage you to bring breast milk and stop in throughout the day to breast-feed your baby?
  • Is there a special outside play area for infants and toddlers?
  • What are the ages of the other children?
  • What is the provider’s plan for dealing with separation and attachment issues which happen during the first years of life?
  • Does the provider ask you what your child likes and needs?
  • Does the provider read, sing, and provide toys that are appropriate for your child’s age?

Preschool care

Preschoolers need room to run, jump, climb, and socialize. Look for a provider that can expose your child to books, toys, art, music, and “share time,” which will help him prepare for school without pushing him too much.        

Find out:

  • What is the preschool’s daily schedule?
  • Do the providers interact with the children and stay close to observe them?
  • Do the providers get down to the level of the child? Is eye contact being made?
  • Do the children respond in a positive way to the providers?
  • Do you see smiles exchanged?
  • With regard to art projects, does the provider believe that process or product is the more important?
  • Are there creative materials for pretending so that the children can use their imagination at all times?
  • How much climbing, running, or jumping will the children have each day?
  • Is correct language used?
  • When are books used? Is there a regular story time?
  • Is there a balance between active and quiet play?
  • Is there child-sized equipment?
  • Are toys stored within easy reach of the children, or must they always ask an adult?
  • How is toilet training handled?
  • Are children required to take a nap?
  • Are children encouraged to help with cleanup?

School-age care

Quality school-age care offers a safe, friendly, and stimulating environment for older children when they are not in school. Children need to be supervised at all times. Indoor and outdoor activities should be stimulating and fun for this age group. School-age care also needs to be flexible to offer a program that meets the individual needs of children. Here are some questions to consider when looking for quality school-age care:

  • Is transportation provided to and from school? If necessary, is the provider on the bus route?
  • Are afternoon snacks available?
  • What about homework? Is there access to a quiet study place, computers or other learning tools?
  • Does the program provide tutoring for children who need extra help?
  • Does the provider feel comfortable with visits from school friends on site? Is there transportation for after-school activities, such as sports, piano, Little League, or 4-H?
  • Is the method of discipline appropriate for older children? Do the children have some say in organizing their day?

Other points to consider

Whether you are looking for infant, preschool, or school-age care, read the caregiver’s written policies and procedures. Determine when the program is closed and what the policy is for late pickup or illness. Check references. Talk with other parents who have children in the program. When you have narrowed down your choices, contact two important agencies that will help check on the past history of providers: your local Community Care Licensing and/or TrustLine. Visit the program at least twice, at different times of the day. Stay long enough to watch children switch from one activity to another. 

Making your choice

Before making your final choice, bring your child to visit the child care provider(s) or center. Watch:

  • How does your child get along with the provider(s)? The other children? Is she excited about being cared for there?
  • How does your child interact with the other children?
  • Does your child seem comfortable with the meals provided?
  • How does the daily schedule work for your child?
  • What is the next step in starting the child care relationship?
  • Is there a waiting list? 

Talk to the provider again and ask for written fee information.  If possible, enroll your child in the child care program a few days before returning to work to ensure a smooth transition.

Parent Tip

One indicator of quality is whether or not the child care center you are considering is accredited through a well-known organization called the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) External link opens in new window or tab.. If a child care center is working towards accreditation or a staff member is a member of this organization, it is more probable the provider is dedicated to giving your child good care. To learn more about NAEYC, or to find accredited early childhood programs, check out its Web site.

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Child Care Centers

Care About Quality Table of Contents

Questions:   Early Education and Support Division | 916-322-6233
Last Reviewed: Thursday, October 1, 2015

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