This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Choosing the right child care program for your child is one of the most important early decisions you’ll make as a parent. A good program does more than just babysit. It provides a safe and supportive environment where children are encouraged to play and learn.
The cost of the program needs to be within your budget. If you are worried about how to afford good child care, you might be eligible to receive child care subsidies. If you fit the income guidelines in the Early Care and Education: FAQ, call 1-888-461-KIDS (5437) to get more information on financial help.
Start your search early and follow these steps to help you find the right program.
- Make a list: Talk with friends, family members and co-workers about child care programs they have used. But don’t stop there. Get a list of child care providers in your area by contacting Child Care Information Services (CCIS) of Philadelphia County at 1-888-461-KIDS or visit www.philadelphiachildcare.org.
- Call: Call child care centers or homes that are conveniently located to your home or workplace that you are considering for your child. Start with basic questions: Is your program licensed or registered? How many children do you take care of? What are the hours? What are your fees? Do you give children breakfast/lunch/snacks? How do you handle a child getting sick at school? If the answers to the above questions fit your needs, you’ll want to get more information on these key indicators of quality:
- Adult-to-child ratio: Ask how many children there are for each adult. The fewer the children for each adult, the better for your child. You want your child to get plenty of attention. The younger your child, the more important this is. State licensed centers are required to provide one adult for every four infants, while four-year-olds can do well with one adult for ten children. The lower the ratio the better.
- Group size: Find out how many children are in the group. The smaller the group, the better. Imagine a group of 25 two-year olds with five adults, compared to a group of 10 with two adults.
- Caregiver qualifications: Ask about the caregivers’ training and education. Caregivers with degrees and/or special training in working with children will be better able to help your child learn.
- Turnover: Check how long caregivers have been at the center or providing care in their homes. It’s best if a child stays with the same caregiver for at least one year.
- Keystone STARS or accreditation: Find out if the child care provider participates in Pennsylvania’s quality rating system – Keystone STARS – or has been accredited by a national organization. Such providers have met voluntary standards that are higher than state licensing requirements.
- Visit and ask more questions: Make a short list of child care centers or homes that you are still considering and schedule visits. Morning is the best time to see a program in full swing. Avoid afternoon when children will be napping. During your visit, ask questions to help you decide if your child will be safe and happy.
- What will my child do each day? What is your daily schedule?
- How do your teachers handle behavior issues, disruptive children, or children who can’t sit still?
- Besides yourself, who will be around my child when they are in your care?
- How do you communicate with parents?
- Look and listen: During your visit, look around the child care center or home and be aware of the surroundings and what’s happening. Use the following checklist.
See the checklist (An Adobe Acrobat PDF).