ChildSavers provides a checklist of what to look like in a day care or child care provider

Top 5 Things to Look for in Daycare and Child Care

Choosing child care for your child is one of the most important decisions families can make. Sometimes parents and guardians are left choosing between two or more deal breakers… Can we afford child care? Is this early care program setting my child up for successful, lifelong learning? Can they accommodate my child’s specific needs? Luckily, there’s a free program in Central Virginia that can help you identify what to look for in daycare and child care providers (daycare) and connect you to quality programs that fit your family’s needs. 

Identify Quality: What to Look for in Daycare

Child high fiving parent after finding quality daycare and child care

Quality care entails healthy, trauma-informed learning environments, promotion of social and emotional development, qualified staff, and family involvement. Research has shown that quality child care and daycare programs support:

  • Brain development – children in high quality childcare can develop learning competencies like social-emotional skills, self-regulation, and advanced thinking and problem-solving skills.
  • School readiness – children who have attended high quality early childcare programs have improved math, language, and social skills.
  • Future success – children enrolled in high quality childcare are more likely to attend college, earn higher wages, and are less likely to be involved in criminal justice system.

When researching what to look for in daycare andchild care providers, inquire and keep an eye out for important details like health and safety precautions, nutritional standards, adult-to-child ratio, caregiver qualifications, accreditation, and parent-teacher interaction.

Health & Safety

Child washing their hands with the help of a daycare teacher

When interviewing providers, you want to ensure the environment is safe, clean, and well-maintained. All adults and children should wash their hands frequently, especially before & after meals and after using the bathroom. All areas should be cleaned regularly, especially bathrooms, rugs, and toys. The space should be child-proofed, and cleaning supplies should be stored out of children’s reach or locked in cabinets. There should also be smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, and a second exit.

Nutrition is also an important factor to consider when deciding on childcare. For young children, each meal is an opportunity to grow healthy and strong and develop good habits. If meals and snacks are provided, confirm that healthy dietary guidelines are followed. Many providers participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), which helps programs provide nutritious meals for the children they care for. Asking potential childcare programs whether they participate in CACFP is one way to get information about their approach to nutrition.

Adult-to-Child Ratios to Look for in Daycare

Make sure the number of daycare teachers is sufficient for the number of children in the child care facility

Does the program have an appropriate number of adults looking after each group of children? This is known as the child-to-adult ratio and the fewer the children for each adult, the better it is for your child. You want your child to get plenty of attention, and the younger your child, the more important this is.

Below are Virginia’s ratio guidelines in both centers and family day homes:

Child Care Center Ratio Guidelines by Age

Birth to 16 months            1:4

16 months to 2 years         1:5

2 years                            1:8

3 to 5 years                     1:10

5 to 9 years                     1:18

10 to 12 years                   1:20

Family Child Care Home Point System by Age

Birth to 16 months               4pts

16 months to 2 years            3 pts

2 to 4 years                          2 pts

5 to 9 years                          1 pts

10+ years                             0 pts


Caregiver Qualifications

Make sure your child care or daycare has teacher qualifications

Ask about the caregivers’ training and education. Do they have a college degree/credential in child development or a related field? It is also important that all caregivers in the program receive ongoing training in child development.

For example, the Child Development Associate Credential, also known as CDA, is the most widely known and valued credential in early childhood education. It is an opportunity for educators working with children from birth to age 5 to demonstrate and strengthen their knowledge, understanding, and practices when teaching in early education.

Accreditation to Look for in Daycare Providers

Children playing at a credentialed daycare child care center in Virginia

Find out if the child care provider has been accredited by a national organization. Providers that are accredited have met voluntary standards for childcare that are higher than most state licensing requirements.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is the professional association for the early childhood education industry and accredits early childhood programs. Childcare programs may use other quality rating systems (QRIS), which can improve a program’s quality. In Virginia, the QRIS is called ‘Virginia Quality’.

Family Involvement 

Parent playing with their child at daycare and child care

Are visits allowed and encouraged anytime the child care program is open? You want a caregiver who talks to you and makes you feel comfortable and welcomed.  Likewise, the provider should talk to you about your child’s needs and progress.

Based on the outline above of what to look for in daycare, we suggest creating a checklist of your own – depending on the criteria that matters most to you.

Free Tools to Find Quality Child Care in Virginia

Child Care Aware of Virginia is a community-based network of childcare and early education specialists. We offer referrals and FREE consultations to all parents in need of childcare services. We can help parents:

  • Locate, evaluate, and select the best child care that meets the needs of their child and family.
  • Select the best care for children with special needs.
  • Look for indicators of quality in a child care program.

There are three ways parent can find quality care through Child Care Aware Virginia: 

  1. Call (866) KIDS TLC and select option 2 for our customized referral service.
  2. Conduct your own search, enter your search criteria to access childcare options 24/7 via Child Care Aware of Virginia’s online self-search.
  3. Contact the Child Care Aware team at ChildSavers

Upcoming Child Care Workshops (Free)

Join us on the 3rd Wednesday of each month from 7 PM -8:30 PM EST for our How to Find Quality Care Workshop! Visit our Eventbrite to sign up for the next workshop.

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