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Tips on Finding Licensed Child Care


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Start with these quick tips to find licensed child care:

List the things that are important for you and your child, and then collect names of potential child care providers. Child Care Aware Washington can give you names of licensed child care providers in your area.

DEL's brochure You Have a Choice! A Guide to Finding Quality Child Care also can help you with finding quality child care providers and getting financial help to pay for child care. You can also view the brochure in Spanish: ¡Usted tiene una opción! Una guía para encontrar cuidado de niños de calidad en el Estado de Washington.

Tour a high-quality classroom (courtesy of Invest in Us, a project of the First Five Years Fund).

Call several caregivers and ask about:

  • When they'll have space for your child.
  • Hours of operation, vacation coverage.
  • Cost.
  • Location.
  • Meals and snacks.
  • Ability to meet your child's individual needs.
  • Other things that are important to your family.

If you are able, make appointments to visit three or more sites. At each site:

  • Ask any questions you have.
  • Check caregiver references by talking to parents with children in the program.
  • Take your child to visit the final choice(s); if possible, let your child help make the final decision.
  • Pay attention to your intuition and observations; no setting is perfect, and you'll need to figure out which compromises you're willing to make.
  • Read the provider's written policies and procedures carefully.
  • Sign a contract or agreement form with the caregiver that makes your mutual expectations clear, including the fee structure, holidays, vacations, and refunds.
  • Discuss the need for an emergency back-up plan.

A common question for many parents is: How will I know if the child care arrangement I've chosen is the right one? Ask yourself:

  • Is my child going to have fun there?
  • Is my child going to be safe and healthy there?
  • Will my child develop a love of learning there?

If you can answer "yes" to those three questions, chances are you have found a place where your child can thrive.

As a parent, you will have ideas about what you want in a child care setting. Here are some ideas about things to look for when checking out child care facilities.

Environment: A child care facility should be safe, clean, and well-maintained, and the setting should be bright and cheerful. The facility should have good air circulation and the temperature should be comfortable. There should be enough space for the children to move freely, with areas for active and quiet activities. Children should be protected from hazards; electrical outlets should have non-removable covers, and cleaning supplies and hazardous items should be safely stored. If the facility cares for infants and toddlers, cribs should have firm mattresses without soft excess bedding, and diaper changing areas should be safe and clean. Stairs should have gates with handrails. The outdoor space should be enclosed and should be set up so staff can see all children during playtime.

Provider: The child care provider(s) should be seen talking to children as they play, diaper, and feed them. A child care provider should have ample opportunity to give your child individual attention. You should see the provider holding and cuddling children, providing comfort when needed. Children should be allowed to express their feelings, and should be given encouragement by having choices rather than being reprimanded.

Program: A child care activity program should be fun and creative, and support healthy child development. There should be enough play materials in easy access to the children so they stay busy and involved. Books should be available to children at all reading levels, including books for infants and toddlers, and books in children's primary language. Television viewing should be limited. The play materials should help develop motor, sensory, and social skills and may include:

  • Soft toys.
  • Building blocks.
  • Art materials.
  • Musical toys.
  • Riding and climbing equipment.