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Licensed Childcare

by Marty Jacobs, Family Services Director at Child Care Resources

Child care options and criteria of what to look for in high quality licensed child care.

Child care plays a huge role in children’s growth; in fact it can prepare them to enter school with the skills they need to succeed. Brain research shows that the quality of care (be it at home or with a child care provider) children receive between the ages of 0 – 5 can affect them for the rest of their lives.

So, families need to approach choosing child care with both their child’s immediate and long term needs in mind and good information to inform their choice.

Licensed child care must follow state rules, including health and safety standards, provider skills and training, interaction with children and child to adult ratios and group size.  Licensed child care meets the needs of most families through two types of care: Family Child Care Homes and Centers.

Family Child Care are offered in the home of the provider, who cares for a small number of children – usually six to twelve; depending on the ages of the children.  Children are usually of mixed ages, and the group looks a lot like a family, one of the benefits of this form of child care.  A child will have fewer adults and children with whom to interact during the day and will learn social skills and interact with children of differing ages.  Other benefits of family child care are the larger supply of family child care homes, its smaller size and flexibility.  Family child care is more likely to accommodate parents’ unusual schedules (evening, weekend and overnight care) and is usually less expensive than centers.  Backup care may be needed in case of provider illness or unavailability.

Child Care Centers are larger facilities providing care in a group setting.  In a child care center, children will usually be in a group of children of similar age with activities and materials designed for that age.  They provide opportunities for children to learn social skills and interact with children of their same age. Centers are open during traditional work hours and are usually less able to accommodate parents’ unusual or changing schedules.  Teacher turnover can be a problem – ask about turnover rates.

Choosing high quality care requires effort on the parents’ part. Visits to the child care to observe interactions and activities, checking complaint history through Department of Early Learning website and asking for references from other parents are important ways to determine the “right” child care.  In a high quality child care program, the interactions between the children and caregivers are warm, respectful and demonstrate positive support and responsiveness.  Small child to staff ratios and group sizes are also important.

Other characteristics of high quality child care are:

  • Learning environment with materials appropriate for the children’s ages and interests and which provide a variety of opportunities for learning throughout the day.
  • Professional development/training for providers so that they interact effectively with children.
  • Communication between provider and families that supports the child and enriches the program.
  • Leadership and management for a well-run business with policies in place to ensure child health and safety and high quality learning.

Local resource and referral agencies such as Child Care Resources in King County help parents locate child care that meets their needs and can refer parents to other resources that will be helpful in the child care choice.  

About the Author

Marty Jacobs is Family Services Director at Child Care Resources, where she has worked since 2002.  She directs Child Care Information and Referral Services, Enhanced Services for Parents and the Family, Friend and Neighbors program. Previously she was Executive Director of the Washington Association for the Education of Young Children.

Marty entered the field of early childhood education after serving on the Board of Directors of her young son’s child care program and leading the parent involvement portion of the program’s national accreditation process.

Marty has worked in human services, including in early childhood education and in maternal/child health, for more than 30 years. She has a BA from Emory University and an MSW from the University of Washington.  She is married and has one grown son and has lived in Seattle for 34 years.

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