Most families in the United States will need to secure childcare outside of their home at some point. It’s a daunting task to find a person or facility you trust to care for your children while you are at work. There are a lot of options, but finding a child care facility that has open spots and is affordable can be difficult.

Doing a little bit of research will help you feel more confident in your choice when it is time to drop you children off at childcare. Programs are often very specific about their age ranges, opening and closing times, educational programs, and meal schedules. It can feel overwhelming to look for something that will work for your family. Following these guidelines can help you make an informed decision that is best for you, you children, and your budget.

Know the different kinds of childcare available to you.

Knowing exactly what you are looking for will help you narrow your choices. There are several kinds of childcare, and what is best for you will depend on your child’s age and your typical work schedule.

  • Family Child Care Homes are certified childcare providers who provide daycare services in their own home. There are usually one or two caregivers and a small group of children. These providers are more likely to offer non-traditional hours.
  • Child Care Centers are larger facilities with multiple classes and staff members. Kids are usually separated by age.
  • *Preschool programs *are educational programs for children ages three to five. These are offered through public and private schools, child care centers, non-profit groups, and government initiatives such as Head Start.
  • School age programs are for children ages five and up that operate before and after school, and sometimes on holidays and during the summer.

Get a child care list.

All licensed child care providers are included in a searchable list managed by the local Child Care Resource and Referral Agency (CCR&R).

This will direct you to one of more than 400 CCR&R agencies that serve your local community, and can help you with your search or to find financial assistance.

Do your research.

Doing a little bit of background research will help you understand if the facility will meet your family’s needs. Besides location and hours, knowing what certifications the providers have will give you a more complete picture of the services they offer. Some of these certifications are optional and just show a further commitment to providing a healthy environment for children. Others are required by the state to continue caring for children. This can vary by state, but your local CCR&R will be able to tell you what is required in your state. This is the information you will be able to find online about any childcare provider you are looking for:

Take a tour.

This is the best way to get a feel for what the facility is actually like. Take these things into consideration when you are touring:

  • Are the adults actively engaged with the children?
  • Are there enough toys and learning materials for all of the children?
  • Do the teachers use respectful and kind language?
  • Are the meals nutritious, varied, and have things your child will eat?
  • Do you see any safety concerns?
  • What educational programs are offered/what are the goals of the program?
  • Trust your instinct. Is there anything that you find unappealing or worrisome?

While there is a lot to consider when trying to find appropriate child care, there are resources that can help.

Child Care Aware of America has many resources and lists of questions you may want to ask providers before enrolling your child.

There are also resources in each state to help you pay for childcare if it will create a financial burden for your family. There are many reliable and loving places for your child to spend time while you are at work. With a little research, you will be able to find the facility that best fits your needs.