Child Care: Picking a Provider

Kathy Lynn Gray

Scary, perplexing moments abound when you're a parent, but one of the most stressful situations can be deciding who will care for your child if both parents work.

Luckily, there's plenty of information available to help with the decision.

"Every situation is different, and it's not the same fit for every person," said Dana Wright, managing director of programs at Action for Children, a nonprofit organization that provides child care advice and information for central Ohioans. "As a parent myself, I know I wanted to make sure that the environment was the best for me and my family and my child."

There are lots of considerations. Would a small home-based provider be better? A larger in-home provider? A child care center?

Dr. Daniel Coury, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Nationwide Children's Hospital, said parents first should assess their requirements, such as when they need child care, whether they want it to be close to their home and what they can afford to pay.

Then search online or call local providers to get some basic information, he said.

Action for Children can assist with that, Wright said. The organization has specialists who will help parents search through the organization's database of 1,600 licensed providers.

"We can guide them through the process," she said, including helping parents decide what they can afford, what's convenient and what type of setting might be best for their child. Specialists can help narrow the search to three or four providers, Wright said, but cannot make specific recommendations.

The state also has a website,, where parents can search for child care by location and program type, said Jon Keeling, communications director for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, which licenses child care facilities. Parents also can see inspection reports for providers and find out which accept public child care assistance, he said.

Once parents select a few prospective providers, the next step is the eyeball test: visiting them, Coury said.

"Look at the tone of the place, which you really can't get from a written description," he said. Are children treated in a caring manner? Are they being played with and "not just left in a crib to cry?" Are there enough books, toys and activities to give children a stimulating environment?

Wright suggests spending at least an hour at each provider.

"Count how many children are cared for throughout the day," she said. "Look at the content of the program: Are activities safe and suitable for the age of the child? Is the setting clean and organized to some extent? Are children enjoying themselves?"

Action for Children has a printable checklist on its website,, that parents can take on visits, as well as a list of questions to ask and qualities to observe.

A facility's age is isn't necessarily the best gauge, Wright said. "It's not really what it looks like on the outside, but what happens inside. Listen to your gut and your instinct."

Under Ohio law, small home-based providers can care for up to six children, including their own kids under age 6. No more than three of the children can be under age 2. These providers can be state licensed, but it isn't required.

Large at-home providers can have up to 12 children, but they must be licensed by the state and have a second caregiver on the premises.

At child care centers, the adult-child ratio ranges from one adult for every five infants to one for every 18 school-age children.

Those are the minimum standards, Wright pointed out; higher-quality programs have more caregivers per child than the state requires.

Coury said the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends one adult for every three children under age 1. The academy has a booklet to help parents choose child care at, listed under the Families tab. He said another good resource is

The state of Ohio's Step Up to Quality program also can help parents find child care that goes beyond minimum standards, Keeling said. Providers can be awarded up to five stars if their teachers meet certain educational standards, develop yearly classroom improvement plans and involve families in the facility. The Job and Family Services list of facilities notes which ones are part of the Step Up program and the number of stars they have been awarded.

Another way to find higher-quality programs is to check accreditations. Several organizations, such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children, National Early Childhood Program Accreditation and National Accreditation Commission for Early Care and Education Programs, evaluate facilities and offer accreditation to those that meet their professional standards.

Both Coury and Wright cautioned that as family needs change and children grow, parents' choice of child care might need to change also.

"Sometimes you have to go back to the drawing board," Wright said. "Sometimes it just isn't the right fit anymore."