What to look for in a Child Care Centre
Decisions about child care are important. Parents want a child care setting that offers learning experiences that match their child's developing abilities. They want to leave for work each day feeling confident that their child is safe and happy.   

What is Special About Centre-Based Child Care?
Child care centres offer balanced programs of activities for infants, toddlers, and pre-school and school-age children. Children learn and grow while making friends with other children of the same age.

Centre-Based Care Offers Other Advantages:

  • the staff includes professionals with training in early childhood education
  • the activities are designed for children at different stages of development
  • the environment is free from dangerous objects and materials
  • the setting is designed for children
  • the toys and playground equipment are age-appropriate and are chosen with the safety and enjoyment of children in mind

When Parents Choose a Licenced Centre they know;

  • staff are always present to help children develop and learn
  • children are treated in a positive manner that enhances self-esteem and self-confidence, and corporal punishment is not permitted
  • the centre meets standards relating to such areas as the physical setting, emergency and fire procedures, cleanliness and nutrition.

Choosing Centre-Based Child Care
Choosing a child care centre often takes time and effort. When you are looking for a centre that meets your family's needs, begin early and try to consider more than one centre. Visit the centre you are considering, meet the staff, ask questions, and watch what is happening. You can learn a great deal from observing the children and staff together.

When you have collected all the information you can, assess each centre you have visited to see if it meets your needs and provides the quality of care you want for your child.

Determining Your Child Care Needs
Before visiting child care centres, consider

  • how many hours of care will your child need?
  • does your child have any special needs?
  • Where should the centre be located? near home, work or school?

Making the First Contact
Before telephoning, it is a good idea to make a list of questions. If you use the same list for each call, you can compare the answers from each centre and eliminate centres that clearly do not meet your family's needs. Your questions may include:

  • What are your hours?
  • How old are the children you care for?
  • How many children are in a group?
  • How many staff members care for each group?
  • What training do the staff have?
  • Are parents encouraged to drop in?
  • What is the basis cost? Are there any additional charges? Is there a charge when children are sick or away on holiday? Is there an application fee?
  • Is fee subsidy available?
  • Do you have a waiting list?

If you like the way the director or supervisor answers your questions, ask for an appointment to visit the centre. Since it is important to be able to compare two or more centres, continue to call the other centres on your list. Ask the same questions and make appointments to visit.

Paying a visit
Your visit should give you a good opportunity to talk to staff and observe the children. Make comparisons easy by going to each centre at about the same time of day. Visit on your own or with another adult. Try to make arrangements for your child to be cared for by another person since seeing a number of centres can be confusing to a young child.

Plan to be at each centre for at least an hour. While there, spend your time

  • interviewing the director or supervisor
  • observing the children and staff
  • assessing the physical setting.

After your visit, sum up your impressions and make notes for future reference.

Observing the Children and Staff
Spend some time on your own observing the children and staff (with the permission of the director or supervisor). Sit down and watch to see if the children are happy and involved in the activities described in the group's program plan for that day. Look for evidence of a well-balanced program that includes

  • indoor and outdoor play
  • active and quiet times
  • structured and unstructured activities
  • individual, small group and large group activities
  • experiences that promote physical co-ordination, language development, and social skills.

Watch how staff relate to the children. Do they talk to them often and listen carefully when they speak? Do they bend down to the children's level and talk directly to them? Are their words and tone of voice positive and do their faces show that they are enjoying their work? How do the children respond to them?

Ask the director or supervisor to arrange time for you to speak directly to the staff members who will care for your child. Ask about their training and experience and their views on caring for children. Notice how they respond to you. Are they friendly, helpful and happy to listen to your questions? Do you feel good about the possibility of having them provide care for your child?

Assessing the Setting
Child care centres should be places where you would like to spend your time. Consider whether the centre is clean and bright, has a comfortable temperature, and is free from unpleasant odours. Ask about sleeping arrangements. Check the kitchen to see how food is stored, prepared and served to the children. Look to see if the menu plan is posted. Notice whether the children have enough indoor or outdoor space to move around and play. Look at the toys. Are there enough? Is there a variety? Are they clean, in good repair and suited to the ages and interests of the children? Check the equipment and furniture. Is it also clean and in good repair?

Making a Confident Choice
After you have visited the centres on your list, compare your notes and think about the centres in relation to your family's needs and the quality of care you want for your child.

If you choose your child care centre carefully, basing your decision on what is important to you, you are bound to make the best choice. The time and effort you put into the task will help to ensure an ongoing arrangement that benefits both you and your family.