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Evaluating Out-of-Home Childcare

Learn how to thoroughly evaluate out-of-home childcare facilities.

Evaluating Out-of-Home Childcare

In both day care centers and family day care, two processes serve to ensure quality in childcare-licensing and accreditation. Licensing is the means by which childcare providers are monitored by each state. All states have licensing and/or registration requirements for day care centers and family day care providers, but the specific circumstances under which a provider must be licensed may differ by state. Accreditation is certification by a nationally-recognized organization that the provider has met a rigorous set of standards of quality in the childcare that is given. Accreditation is voluntary—it is up to the caregiver to apply for the certification. Just because a provider is not accredited does not mean that the childcare is substandard.

Licensing and Accreditation
State governments control the provision of day care, whether by centers or family day care, by enacting regulations that providers are required to follow. Subjects of regulation may include the following:

  • the number of children per staff that may be present;
  • the manner in which children are transported to and from the child�care facility;
  • allowable methods of discipline;
  • the care of a child who becomes ill;
  • how diaper changes are handled;
  • how areas of the facility are sanitized;
  • the training required of facility staff and director;
  • how field trips may be taken;
  • whether and how long children must engage in nap or quiet time; and,
  • what information about each child must be recorded.
In most states, all of these areas and many others are regulated. A good source for information about your state's childcare provider regulations is the National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care (NRC). This organization is funded by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, and serves the interests of health and safety in childcare settings outside of the home. The NRC's website includes licensing and other childcare-related regulations for each of the fifty states at

While state license regulations set out the minimum requirements that providers must follow, accreditation involves a higher set of standards that usually go above and beyond state mandates. Some states however, have actually adopted accrediting agencies' recommended standards, and made them the law. One example of this is with the maximum ratios of staff to children in day care centers. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has long advocated for small group sizes per staff member, as studies have shown that this factor can have a great impact on the level of care children receive. A number of states' laws now reflect this recommendation in whole or in part.

Recommended Maximum Group Sizes and Staff-to-Child Ratios

Age of Children
Maximum Group Size
Ratios for Maximum Group
Infants (up to 15 months)
Toddlers (12 to 28 months)
2-year-olds (21 to 36 months)

(Source: NAEYC)

Family day care programs across the country are accredited by the National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC), the organization that promotes quality in family day care.

Checking Out Potential Day Care Centers and Family Day Care Homes
Hopefully, you will receive referrals to more than one childcare facility that you feel may work for your family. Once you have a list of providers, you will need to check them out thoroughly so that you can choose the best one for your child. A comprehensive evaluation of a provider should include all of the following:

  • an initial conference with the director or owner, either by telephone or in person;
  • a check with your state licensing office for any complaints against the provider;
  • visits to the center or day care home, on several days and at different times during the day; and,
  • teleconferences with at least two other families who have children at the center or home.
Checklist of Points to Consider
This checklist is meant to give you a broad set of topics that you should address either in your interviews with the potential childcare provider or in your inspection of the premises. Of course, not all of these will necessarily apply to the childcare arrangement you are looking at. In fact, as you proceed with your assessment of the provider, you may come up with additional issues that you wish to address. The list will give you a good start in your investigation.

Some of the recommendations mentioned are based on research, either of a specific organization as named, or on general criteria provided by the accreditation agencies for day care centers and family day care (NAEYC and NAFCC). However, a number of the subject areas may be regulated by state law. Your local Child Care Resource and Referral agency may be able to give you specifics for your state.

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