Choosing a Child Care Center

A PARENT’S RESPONSIBILITY

As a parent, your child’s well being, health and safety are in your hands. When the selection of a child care provider is made carefully, positive results are most likely to occur.

  1. Plan ahead. Choosing child care takes time. Begin your search at least one month in advance.
  2. Contact the Contra Costa Child Care Council for free referrals to licensed family day care homes or centers.
  3. Call each child care provider to determine specific services and policies. If the provider offers care which meets your needs, set up a time to visit the program while children are present.
  4. Interview several providers and observe their programs. Watch how children play and interact with each other.
  5. Contact other parents who are using the program. Ask if they are satisfied and if their children are happy and well cared for.
  6. Select the child care situation which best meets the needs of your family. Trust your feelings and your instincts.

TYPES OF CHILD CARE

Child Care Centers

Child care centers in California are licensed to care for thirteen or more children in a non-residential setting. Centers are usually designed to meet the needs of working parents by operating year-round. Many centers serve children ages 2-1/2 to 5 years, although some are designed just for infants and toddlers; others combine infants, toddlers, preschoolers and in some situations school-age children.

Preschools

Preschools are similar to child care centers in terms of program, but do not necessarily offer the full-day component. Often preschool programs are chosen by non-working parents in order to provide their children with early learning experiences and opportunities to socialize with peers. Preschool programs typically offer half day structured programs but may also offer extended care.

Before/After School Programs

Before/after school programs usually cover the hours school is not in session. Often these programs operate during vacation and school holidays, or offer a full time summer program. Sometimes services are provided at school sites.

ENVIRONMENT

Your child is growing and changing each day. It is important that children spend their time in a place that will meet their changing needs. The center’s environment should be:

  • Well organized; children know where materials can be found.
  • Varied; children need a range of activities from which they can choose each day.
  • Constantly supervised by an adult.
  • Smooth in its handling of routines and transitions.
  • Balanced, flexible and relaxed.
  • Well designed in its layout-space for art, science, drama, music, water play, etc.
  • Age appropriate in its selection of toys, non-sexist books, records and games.
  • Safe climbing equipment and structures.

Licensing regulations set minimal staffing ratios, as well as health and safety standards for all child care centers, including:

  • For every four infants, one teacher is required.
  • For every 12 preschoolers, one teacher is required. If the program uses Teaching Assistants, there must be one teacher and one assistant for every 15 children.
  • Staff meets proper educational requirements.
  • Adequate space: 35 sq. ft. of indoor space per child; 75 sq. ft. of usable outdoor space per child.
  • Comfortable napping space.
  • Sufficient heat, lighting and ventilation.
  • Fire safety clearance by local Fire Marshall.

TEACHING STAFF

Quality care depends on teachers and parents working in cooperation. Teachers should have training in child development or early childhood education and continue to receive education in areas related to child care. When observing a center, take note of the following qualities in the staff:

  • How children are greeted and sent home each day.
  • Children are treated with respect.
  • Children are not discriminated against because of gender, race, religion or ethnic background.
  • Each child is treated as an individual.
  • Children are taught self-control and self-discipline.
  • All staff on the premises are loving, warm, approachable and patient.

STAFFING REQUIREMENTS FOR CENTERS

Child Care Centers which are licensed in California are required to adhere to very precise staffing criteria. Failure to have the required staffing can result in programs being sited by Community Care Licensing, a division of the State’s Department of Social Services. For more information on child care center regulations, contact Community Care Licensing at 510-622-2602.

Teacher/Child Ratios

Infant Care:
0-2 years: 1 fully qualified teacher for 12 infants, 1 teaching assistant for every 4 infants.

Toddler Option:
18 months – 36 months 1 fully qualified teacher for every 12 toddlers, 1 teaching assistant for every 6 toddlers.

Pre-School:
24 months – to Kindergarten 1 fully qualified teacher for every 12 pre-schoolers, 1 teacher and 1 aide for every 15 preschoolers.

School Age:
1 fully qualified teacher for every 28 children, 1 teaching assistant for every 14 children.

Staff Qualifications

Aide:
Must be at least 18 years of age, a high school graduate and under the supervision of a qualified teacher at all times.

Teacher:
Must have at least 12 units in ECE. Classes required: Child Family & Community, Child Development plus curriculum units. (A Teacher may be employed with 6 units if currently enrolled in an additional six units).

Director:
Must have the following qualifications:

  • 12 units in ECE, plus 3 units in administration and 4 years experience in a licensed Center not a Family Day Care; or
  • An AA degree in Early Childhood Education from an accredited college or University and 3 units in administration, plus 2 years experience in a licensed center; or
  • A Bachelors Degree in Early Childhood Education, plus 3 units in administration and 1 year of experience in a Licensed Center; or
  • A Children’s Center Supervisory permit.

Each Licensed program component – Infant Center, Pre-School Center, School-Age Center – must have it’s own qualified director and teaching staff.

For school age programs, teachers may substitute 6 of the required units in ECE for units in Home Economics, Elementary Education, Child Psychology, Recreation or related fields.

THE CHOICE IS YOURS

The Contra Costa Child Care Council offers referral services to licensed child programs. These referrals are available to all parents free of charge. The Contra Costa Child Care Council does not recommend any particular child care provider, facility or service, but rather simply makes referrals. These referrals are intended to provide parents with a maximum of choices. It is your responsibility to screen, interview and select the child care situation which works best for your family.