Childcare Checklist: Find the Best Option

Making the Right Choice

Most parents want not just safe childcare, but high-quality care that will help their children reach their full developmental and intellectual potential. Childcare is an enormous industry. With so many alternatives, there is a wide variation in quality among the offerings. Choosing the best for your child can be a daunting task. So how do you get started?

First, know your alternatives. Almost every community has several referral services that can give you lists of providers in your area (sometimes a fee is required). You can call Child Care Aware for a reference to local organizations that will help you find childcare providers (800-424-2246). Begin sorting through those centers that are close to your home on the basis of their characteristics. There are numerous quality indicators you can use.


Licensure is usually a legal requirement for operating a childcare facility. State, county, or local governments license childcare providers that meet minimum governmental standards for health and safety. In some states, for example, the state licenses commercial childcare centers and the county licenses family (in-home) childcare providers. Licensure does not distinguish the good from the mediocre. The National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care offers the licensure requirements for any state in the United States.

Most childcare providers are licensed. Childcare providers who care for a small number of children do not require licensure. In most states, a person does not need a license to use their own home to care for one other family’s children, even if there are multiple children involved. Using Minnesota as an example, here are regulations that state’s family (in-home) childcare providers must follow:

  • Attend large group orientation and small group orientation
  • Receive an information packet
  • Provide references
  • Pass a criminal background check
  • Pass home and fire safety inspection
  • Satisfactorily complete an interview with a social worker.

The number of children permitted in a childcare home depends on the type of license the operator has. When interpreting the list below, be aware that the total number of children includes the provider’s own children as well as those school-age children under age 11 years who attend part-time.

  • A License: Care for 10 children (good for one year only)
  • C1 License: Care for 10 children
  • C2 License: Care for 12 children
  • C3 license: Care for 14 children with another helper


Accreditation is one possible indicator of a better-than-average center. Accreditation depends on a center’s meeting specific goals regarding early childhood education, staff training, and development. Several professional organizations accredit childcare providers. One of the most well-known accrediting agencies is The National Academy of Early Childhood Programs.

Accreditation identifies those centers that may offer something beyond a physically safe environment and go beyond the state’s minimum requirements for licensure. The accreditation process often involves training, implementation, and a verification visit by the accrediting agency’s staff. Requirements may include:

  • A sufficient number of adults with training in early childhood development and education. Adult expectations vary appropriately for children of differing ages and interests.
  • All areas of child development are stressed equally.
  • The staff meets regularly to plan and evaluate the program.
  • Parents are welcome to observe, discuss policies, make suggestions, and participate in the program.

Plainly Speaking

Finding a good childcare facility is important to the health and welfare of your child and your peace of mind. There are many criteria you can use to evaluate the quality of service your child is likely to receive. Using these and your intuition, finding good childcare should be possible in almost any community.

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