Selecting Child Care

Information in this section is drawn from Need Child Care Answers - a parent handbook produced by the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Children’s Services Division, in cooperation with the Minnesota Child Care Resource and Referral Network.

First Step in Selecting Child Care

You can start by calling your local Child Care Resource and Referral Service. The referral service has information available on all the licensed child care providers and much of the unlicensed care in your community. There is a referral service in every region of Minnesota.

The Child Care Resource and Referral Service makes referrals, not recommendations; it does not guarantee the quality of the programs. You should interview several child care providers before you make your choice.

In addition to using the referral service, you may look for child care on your own.

Here are some tips:

  • Look in the Yellow Pages under Child Care.
  • Look for ads in your local newspaper.
  • Place your own ad in your local newspaper.
  • Look for notices or post your own on bulletin boards in grocery stores, your church, community centers, and other public places.
  • Ask your local school employment office if any students are looking for work.
  • Tell your friends, neighbors, co-workers or students that you are looking for child care. The more people who know you need care, the more likely you will find someone.

Choosing a Child Care Provider

There is no best type of care for everyone, but you can determine whether a facility has the quality that will meet your child’s needs and reflect your values.

State laws require that in all licensed child care settings children will be safe, healthy, well nourished, provided with ample space and equipment, and cared for by staff that have some training and experience. A high quality program will have additional characteristics that you can identify by observing and questioning.

Research shows that the following three factors are the most critical in the quality of child care:

Training in Child Development. Perhaps the most important factor in a child care program is that the adult understands what kind of behavior can be expected from children at different ages.  Specialized training is more important than experience; however, training along with experience results in the most skilled care giver.

Smaller Groups of Children. State licensing rules set standards for how many children, at different ages, may be cared for by one adult. Some homes and centers have fewer children or smaller group sizes. This means your child is likely to get more consideration.

A Program Focused on the Child’s Needs. A child care program should be responsive to each child’s needs. These needs will change as the child grows older. Activities should be designed to meet the child’s physical, social, and emotional abilities.

Investigating Child Care Programs 

The state of Minnesota has rules for those who care for children.  There is one set of licensing rules for family child care homes and another set for child care centers. The purpose of licensing is to proctect the health, safety, and well-being of children. Among other things, licensing rules set minimum standards for the number of adults who must be present with groups of children, require background studies on family child care providers and center staff, and require that homes and centers be free of health and safety hazards.

You can get a free copy of the licensing rules for centers. Write to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Division of Licensing, 444 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155, or call Dennis Curran at 612-296-4882. To order a copy of the licensing rules for family child care homes, call 612-296-2588.

A license does not always mean quality. A licensed child care provider is only required to meet minimum standards. You should carefully screen all programs, whether licensed or not.

Make phone calls to child care providers and ask:

  • How many children are in your care?
  • How long have you been in the child care field?
  • What kind of food do you serve?
  • Who are the other adults who will be around my child?
  • Have they received any training in early childhood development?
  • How much do you charge?
  • Are meals included in the fee?
  • What hours are you open?
  • What are your policies when a child is sick or you are on vacation?
  • Other questions pertaining to your personal preferences, such as smoking, fenced yard, children with special needs.

Visit the child care setting and observe:

  • Care giver attitudes.
  • Care giver disposition and interaction with children.
  • Overall environment.

During the visit, ask about:

  • Licensing and accreditation status, group size, and adult/child ratios.
  • Care giver’s qualifications and training.
  • Policies related to discipline - do they match your values?
  • Health, safety, and emergency precautions.

Talk with the people who will be directly caring for your child about:

  • Their early childhood training and their experience related to the present job.
  • How they handle discipline problems - when and how punishment is handled.

Ask for references from other parents:

  • Call and ask the references about their experiences with the program or provider.
  • Would they select this care giver or program again?

When you have completed the visit, ask yourself:

  • Will I feel comfortable leaving my child each day? Will I feel that I can trust the care giver to provide for my child while I am absent?  If you have any doubts, it may mean that you are not finished looking. When you decide to enroll your child in a home or center, you may want to request a two to four week trial period to ensure that the situation is working well for all concerned - for you, for the care giver, and, most importantly, for your child.

Working With the Care Giver

No matter what type of child careyou use, it is most important to develop a good relationship with the provider. Regular communication is important.

A written contract that spells out policies and expectations of both the parents and the provider is recommended. The contract might cover policies, provider fees, arrival and pickup times, contingency plans if the provider is ill, and process for changing or ending the contract.

Put as much as possible in writing. Negotiate with the provider for what you want. Any changes can be made in the contract if both parties agree. Read all contract terms carefully and make sure you understand everything before signing. Consult a lawyer if you are unsure about a proposed contract.

Expressing Your Concerns or Dissatisfaction

If a disagreement or complaint arises, set a specific time to talk about it. If complaints are not resolved, consider finding a new provider. If serious violations persist, report the situation to the appropriate licensing department and child protection office.

If you think the safety or health of the child or other children is endangered, immediately contact the state or county licensing department and/or the county child protection office. For questions or complaints on family or group family day care licensing, call the county licensing office for your area. For questions or complaints on a day care center or nursery school licensing, call Dennis Curran, 612-296-4882.

If you suspect child neglect or abuse, call the child protection office in your county.