My wife and I are shopping around for day care. How can we tell if the facility will offer the proper care? Are there qualifications and credentials I should look for to make sure our child is safe and well cared for?

Finding a quality daycare center or provider can be incredibly stressful. Here are just a few things to look for in a day-care center:

  • The level of training of the staff. Some have degrees in early childhood education; some aren’t much more than warm bodies.
  • Safety: windows, fences around yards, access to kitchen appliances and utensils (knives, ovens, etc.)
  • Is it licensed by the National Association of Education and Child Care?
  • Overall cleanliness.
  • Caregiver/child ratio. (In California, one licensed caregiver can take care of as many as four infants, in some other states it’s a lot more.)
  • Staff training. Do the people working there have training in early childhood education?
  • Staff consistency. How long have the staff been working there. Is there a lot of turnover?
  • Quality, condition, and number of toys.
  • Security: what precautions are taken to ensure that kids can be picked up only by the person you select? Do strangers have access to the center?

Before you make your final choice, be sure to take a tour. Spend half an hour or so-when all the kids are there-observing. Are the children happy? Are they doing the kinds of activities you expected?

Finally, in the weeks after you pick the perfect day-care center, make a few unannounced visits-just to see what goes on when there aren’t any parents around.