Common child care choices

Day care centers: There are many choices for day care centers, including privately owned for-profit centers, church-supported programs and nonprofit community centers. Each type is unique in its own way. Parents must determine what works best for their family when deciding on care.

In-home care: Many individuals offer in-home day care. Some parents prefer the casual setting and the fact that home care often features fewer children.

Nannies and au pairs: If they can afford it, parents may prefer having caregivers come to their own home. Nannies generally arrive at work daily, while au pairs live with the family. Au pairs usually provide child care and light housekeeping in exchange for room, board and a cultural experience.

Mothers' helpers: Home-based parents may want part-time help with children. Mothers' helpers, who may be neighborhood teens, can give a parent time to focus on a task at home.

Before- and after-school care: Schools may offer child-care programs before and after class time. Such care may also be provided by the local YMCA or other community organizations, as well as local day care centers and in-home child care services.

How to find quality child care

All good child care programs should offer reliable supervision by trustworthy adults in a clean, caring and safe environment. Beyond that, however, the definition of "quality" depends on what parents want. Ask yourself what is most important to you: Does your child need personal attention? Is play time paramount? What about naps and learning opportunities?

One of the best ways to determine provider quality is to visit a facility with a list of questions.

What to look for when touring a facility:

Watch for obvious signs that an establishment is safe and comfortable for children. Look for potential hazards or signs of poor cleaning habits.

Observe children's overall mood and temperament. Do they seem happy and engaged? Are they being watched or ignored?

Notice caregivers' appearance and attitude. Do they dress appropriately around children? Are they afraid to crawl on the floor and get their hands dirty?

Some questions to ask:

What is the staff to child ratio? Many states have laws governing the maximum number of children per caregiver.

Does the caregiver or facility have the required licensing and credentials?

What training does the caregiver have?

What would happen in case of an emergency?

What does the caregiver believe constitutes quality care?

How to ensure quality child care

Finding a day care provider is one part of the job. It's important to stay aware and informed. Follow these ideas for making sure your child is getting quality care on an ongoing basis:

Make surprise visits: Parents should always have the right to stop in unannounced to check on their children. This is an effective way to see what happens when parents usually aren't around. Hopefully, there won't be anything that raises a concern, but if there is, it's better to know.

Pay attention to your child: Signs that a child may not be thriving in a particular facility or with a certain caregiver may include mood changes, anxiety or withdrawal. For children who can talk, it's a good idea to occasionally ask if he or she likes day care.

Communicate: Communication is key to establishing a good relationship with care providers. If a parent has a concern, he or she should speak up in a mature and professional manner.

Be persistent: Trust your instincts. Be sure to address any issue or concern you have with the caregiver and/or managers. Be ready to remove your child from any situation you deem suspicious or unsafe, and contact appropriate authorities.

Is your child care provider properly licensed or registered? Use the Angie's List Child Care Provider Check to find out.

Adult Day Care Services

More families are looking for services that helps them keep an elderly parent or adult child with developmental disabilities living safely in the community. Adult day care services are a good option for families who want their parent or child to have some social interaction.

Read more in Angie's List Guide to Adult Day Care

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