6 tips for finding a quality home daycare

Earlier this week, I was able to stay a little longer at Owen’s daycare than usual (a perk being on maternity leave!) I got to watch him do ‘circle time’ and see how he is around his friends. I was such a proud mommy to watch him listen and join in with the teacher and the other kids. I also got to meet a mom who was interviewing my provider. After leaving I got to thinking how blessed I feel that we found such a fantastic daycare for Owen. I remember when we were searching for daycare – I felt like I was being so picky and wondering if we would ever find someone that I felt comfortable enough to watch my most precious cargo!


Owen at the park during daycare - a typical day for him!


I knew I had to have a plan of attack.

Here are my top 6 tips for finding the right home daycare provider for you and your family:

1. Treat it like a job. Plan to take at least a few days off work to take care of finding the right daycare. You may not need that much time – but by taking time off to focus on finding the right daycare you will do a much better job.

2. Ask everyone you know for recommendations. Email all your friends and family, post a note on Facebook, your blog, on Twitter – put it “out there” that you are looking for a good provider and are looking for recommendations.

3. Call your city or county offices for recommendations. Here are the local offices in the Tri-Valley:

Alameda County: Child Care Links

Contra Costa County: Contra Costa Childcare Council

4. Once you have a list of people to call – hit the phones agressively. Set aside time to power through your list. Make sure you have out a calendar, a notepad and a pen to take notes.

Leaving a voicemail:

“Hi, this is <full name>, I received your name from <source>. I am calling because I am looking for daycare for my <son or daughter> who is ____ years old. I am looking for <full time or part time care> (if part time specify what days you need) starting <specific date.> I would love to talk to you as soon as possible. I can be reached at <your phone #>. Looking forward to talking to you soon.”

It’s important in your message to leave the pertinant info: your child’s age, what days you are looking for care and starting what date. This way, you won’t play ‘phone tag.’ If they call you back and get your voicemail, they can let you know if they have an opening or not. Also, on my list of names and numbers, make a note that you left a message for this person.

Reaching the person on the phone:

“Hi, this is <full name>, I received your name from <source>. I am calling because I am looking for daycare for my <son or daughter> who is ____ years old. Is now a good time to chat or should I call back later?”

That last part is key – if you are calling during the hours they are working, they may not be able to give you their full attention. If you need to call back, set a definite time to call back.

5. Be prepared for the phone interview. Over the phone, there are a few key questions I ask to determine if I want to meet this person face-to-face.

  • How long have they been a provider?
  • Are they licensed?
  • How many children are they licensed for? How many do they currently have?
  • What are the ages of the children there? How long have they been there?
  • What is their background & education?
  • Are they a member of the National Association for Family Child Care? (NAFCC sponsors the only nationally recognized accreditation system, designed specifically for family child care providers. NAFCC Accreditation is recognized as the highest indicator that a family child care program is a quality environment.)
  • What are their hours?
  • Are they available the days/times you need?
  • Do they have any assistants or anyone else who helps them? Are they part-time or full-time?
  • Do they have anyone else living in their home?
  • Do they have pets?
  • Do they have a website or blog you could visit for additional information?

As they are talking, make sure you notes. Don’t rely on your memory!

Additionally, I listen for what they don’t say. I listen to how they talk about their job and the children they watch. Do they sound rushed or tired? Are they enthusiastic about their job? At this point, if I’m interested I will schedule a time to visit preferably when they are working. I would recommend bringing your child so you can see how they interact with the other kids  (if they are old enough), but more importantly how the provider is with your child.

6. Be prepared for the face-to-face interview. Arrive a minute or two early. Bring a notepad and pen and your list of questions. I look at how they treat my child but more importantly I see how they are with the kids who are already there. This is usually a more telling sign of how they will be with your child.

I realize this may be trite – but I pay attention to their house – the yard and the inside of the home. Personally, I think it says a lot about someone who takes care of their home and takes pride in how it is presented. I also look at what the kids are playing with – are the toys in good shape or are they broken and falling apart. Is the TV on? Or is the TV in the play area for the kids?

Here are my list of questions once I am in the home:

  • Where do the children sleep? (have them show you)
  • Are you responsible for bringing sheets, blankets, diapers and wipers?
  • Ask about food – what meals are provided? Do you need to pack food or is that provided? Ask for examples of meals that are served.
  • What types of activities do they do?
  • Do they rotate toys? How do they keep them clean?
  • What does their backyard look like? (have them show you)
  • Do they have to transport the children anywhere?
  • What does their daily routine look like?
  • If they have pets ask about where they are during the time your children are there
  • Follow up and ask questions about additional people living in the house – who are they and how much involvement will they have with your children
  • What rooms are the children allowed in?
  • If there are stairs – is there a gate?
  • Are they CPR trained? For infants and toddlers? When was the last time they took a class to refresh their skills?
  • Ask for 3-5 references
  • Ask for their license number
  • What are their rates?
  • Do they have copies of contracts you could take home with you?

Once you leave, spend 3-5 minutes in the car writing down all your initial thoughts – likes and dislikes. I make sure to do this immediately – I write down every thing that stood out to me. As soon as I get home, I call the references and call the licensing board to check on their license.

In California, you need to contact the Community Care Licensing Division. They will be able to do a background check on the provider, let you know when the last home visit was and if they have ever been reported. You can also verify how long they have been a provider and how many children they are legally allowed to have. Additionally, they will tell you who in the home has been fingerprinted and approved.

Do not skip this step! Make sure every daycare provider you are interested in – you call referrals and check their background!

I realize this is a pretty long list of things to do – but like I said, I feel it is really important to be thorough. These suggestions are just that – my suggestions based on my experience. In addition – there are other sources such as nannies, nanny-shares and daycare centers that are great options too.

Do you have additional tips? I’d love your feedback – please leave me a comment below!

This entry was posted in Family, Motherhood. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to 6 tips for finding a quality home daycare


    wow. pls remind me to hire you as a consultant when this day comes for me! very thorough!

  2. Norma Carlson says:

    That was a very complete list of how to find a good provider. I’ve had many perspective parents come up to a 1/2 an hour before our scheduled visit. I always think this is a good idea, as you suggested. I also suggest stopping by without notice so you can get a feel for things. You are amazing! Thanks for the great review!

  3. katielance says:

    Thanks so much Cynthia!

    Thanks Norma! Great suggestions. Your daycare is amazing – it’s easy to rave about it!! We think you are the best!


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