How to select a child care provider

Submitted by Bernadette Davidson, director of child care services at Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center


Since the early years are when the architecture of the brain lays down a foundation that all learning and development is built upon, beginnings are important and the care and education you select for you infant, toddler or preschool child is essential to later success.  The connections in the brain so essential to learning and development are established in the context of their daily care in the relationships with teachers and providers. Children need responsive, respectful and reciprocal care from parents and child care educators. It is important that they work from the start as partners in the care of the child.

So how do you as a parent make decisions about the care of your child?  Here are a few suggestions.

1)    Begin with a licensed family child care home or center.  Licensed programs have specialists look at the program and provider of care to ensure the site is safe and healthy and the provider meets standards that promote quality care. In practical terms, the family child care provider is looked over to ensure it is safe for children.  The family child care provider and teachers in the center receive basic training in first aid, CPR and in the essentials of caring for children. They are trained in how to administer and store medicine safely. They must have on hand the essentials for first aid and also be able to deal with fires. They must have regular fire drills and demonstrate they can get children safely from the site.

Teachers must all receive criminal and sexual checks. In family care this is true for the provider of care and everyone in the home over 18 must all be screened for criminal or sexual crimes.

In licensed programs, regular training is required for teachers and providers of care. Every three years the program is relicensed and if there are any complaints, the program or home is visited by a licensor. This means your child is safer than in an unlicensed home or with a nanny.

Another advantage of licensing is that you can report the cost of care on your taxes and get money back. Also licensed providers are eligible for a lot of low-cost support and training in the care of children.  They may also be offered mentoring and coaching.


2)    Visit the family child care home or center and sit in the classroom or space where your child will be. Watch the teachers or family child care providers with the children. Are they loving, warm and responsive?  Do they focus on the care of the children and talk and respond to them?  Do the children seem relaxed and happy and play well together?  If there are problems between children, do the teachers interrupt and resolve the situation gently and with respect and care?

3)    Does the classroom look clean and safe? Check the diapering area and watch the provider change diapers. Does she stay by the table at all times and talk to the child as she diapers and explains what she is doing? Is the mat on the table clean and covered with paper?  Does she wash her hands and the child’s, the sink and the changing mat?  Does she wash her hands after cleaning and going on to the next child? Hand washing is important for the health of your child.

4)    Are the play materials in the classroom or home available to the children and safe? Are they organized in a manner that makes sense? Are there enough materials for all of the children and do they match their developmental level?  Do the children play and explore with interest in the room? Are there pictures and books? Are they read to and do they sing? Is there a safe backyard or playground nearby and do they go outside daily in good weather?

5)    How are children comforted when upset?  Does the teacher or family child care provider seem empathetic?  When she sets limits, is she gentle and firm? Does she support children’s play and learning with a positive tone?

6)    Research has shown education is important for the person who cares for your child. Has she been trained in early childhood education? Does she have supervision or support? How long has she cared for and educated children?

7)    If you have definite ideas about how you want your child disciplined, toilet-trained and fed, make sure you ask about these things and feel comfortable with how the teacher will address the care and education of your child. You will want your ideas about feeding, training and discipline understood and respected. Coordination between home and the program is critical in establishing consistency at this age.

8)    Make sure you understand clearly the things for which parents are responsible. In child care you are asked to bring diapers and keep a clean change of clothes. Most providers will charge you even if your child is absent from the program because they need to keep their program full to make ends meet.  What is the plan if the teachers or family providers are sick or on vacation? What if you are on vacation?  Is there a late fee? What holidays do they take? When your child is sick with a cold, can he come? When must she stay home when ill? A good program makes these things clear from the start and doesn’t mind your asking questions.

9)    There are several gold seals of high quality in the field. One is Accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. This is an intensive self study by programs followed by a visit from a specialist. Family child care homes can be accredited as well by the National Family Child Care Association. Or individual family child care providers can have a CDA. That is a credential given to family child care providers who demonstrate proficiency and training related to the care of young children and work with their families.  The state of Massachusetts has established a Quality Rating inventory Scale with levels. It is in the process of implementing this. As of yet these levels are not available to parents, but may be in the future.

10) Ask for parents who have used the care to talk to about the program. Ask in the neighborhood if anyone knows the center. You can call the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care and ask if there are complaints about the center or provider.

11) After your child is enrolled in the program, drop by unannounced. All licensed programs are expected to welcome parents at any time. You should never be excluded from entry into the program. Spend a morning or afternoon in the classroom and help out. If the program doesn’t want this, don’t put your child there.

The decision you make now about the care and education is more important than college. These are critical years for the development of your child. Spend the time making sure it is the right one. In the first year of life, your child will triple her weight and by two her brain will reach 75 percent of the weight of an adult brain. This is a sensitive time for language development and the establishment of self-esteem and confidence.  Make sure that the person who cares for your child is responsible, emotionally stable and trained and supported in the care of your child. Make sure she is a professional.

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