When searching for child care, we encourage parents to visit centers and program locations, talk with directors and staff members, and see for themselves if the program will be a good fit. The following resources will provide helpful information when looking at child care options.
Types of Childcare
There are two types of child day care programs: Out-of-home care (Center-Based) and in-home care (Family-Based) in a private home. These two types of care can be further broken down into:
Licensed child day care programs are inspected at least twice per year. They have requirements for background checks, training/orientation, and health and safety.
Unlicensed but Regulated child day care programs vary in their requirements.
Religious exempt child day centers and certified preschool programs are not inspected by VDSS unless there is a complaint.
Unlicensed and unregistered child day care programs do not have any of the following requirements: background checks, training/orientation, or health and safety requirements; and only minimal Code of Virginia requirements. VDSS does not inspect these programs.
Child day centers are child day programs offered to (i) two or more children under the age of 13 years in a facility that is not the residence of the provider or of any of the children in care or (ii) 13 or more children at any location. A child day program is a regularly operating service arrangement for children where, during the absence of a parent or guardian, a person or organization has agreed to assume responsibility for the supervision, protection and well-being of a child under the age of 13 years for less than a 24-hour period.
Licensed programs must meet the standards promulgated by the State Board of Social Services. The Virginia Department of Social Services enforces these standards by inspecting centers at least twice a year and investigating complaints.
Child care centers operated by religious institutions may be exempt from licensure, per § 63.2-1716 of the Code of Virginia, if the religious institutions submit certain documents to the Virginia Department of Social Services prior to opening the child day center and then annually prior to the expiration date of their exemption.
The Virginia Department of Social Services, Division of Licensing, may send inspectors to these facilities only to confirm that they are in compliance with Code requirements and to investigate complaints.
Family day home care is the most common form of child care in this country, especially for younger children. Parents may choose family child care for its intimate, home-like setting, flexible hours, consistency of care-giver, and small group size.
The Code of Virginia mandates the licensure of family day homes that provide care for five through twelve children (exclusive of the provider’s own children and any children who reside in the home). The care may be offered in the home of the provider or in the home of any of the children in care.
A family day home caring for more than four children under the age of two, including the provider’s own children and any children who reside in the home, shall be licensed or voluntarily registered. A family day home where the children in care are all related to the provider by blood or marriage shall not be required to be licensed.
During the (less than 24 hour) absence of a parent or guardian, the licensed family day home provider assumes responsibility for the supervision, protection, and well-being of a child under 13 years of age.
Ratios for Childcare
The following ratios of staff to children are required wherever children are in (center) care:
- For children from birth to the age of 16 months: one staff member for every four children;
- For children 16 months old to two years: one staff member for every five children;
- For two-year-old children: one staff member for every eight children;
- For children from three years to the age of eligibility to attend public school, five years by September 30: one staff member for every 10 children;
- For children from age of eligibility to attend public school through eight years, one staff member for every 18 children; and
- For children from nine years through 12 years, one staff member for every 20 children.
What to look for in a Child Care Provider:
When you are interviewing the center, take some time to listen to what’s going on in the classrooms. You want to hear the sounds of children who are engaged and happy, and adults that are engaged with the children, and are talking to, or playing with them. Unless it’s nap time, it shouldn’t be quiet.
Watch how the teacher handles conflicts between children. She should be calm, helps the children to become calm, listens to both of them, and helps them resolve their problem together, instead of solving it for them (listening to both of them is most important – children can’t always agree on solutions and sometimes need an adult to prompt the solution).
For infants, watch to see how the teacher resolves the conflict for them. Does she soothe both of them? Does she support the one that “lost” the conflict? Is she comforting and reassuring about the display of emotions, or is she dismissive?
Look at the menu (if the center provides food). Licensed centers are required to follow USDA guidelines for food, but how centers meet those guidelines can vary wildly.
Look for the cleanliness of the classroom, and the center in general. There should be some messiness when children are engaged, but things should be clean.
Ask about their policy on parents visiting. There should be an open door policy so parents can visit whenever they want (keep in mind they may ask you to observe through a window, because children can become upset if they see Mom or Dad and it isn’t time to go home) without making an appointment.
When you have chosen the center that’s right for your family, do drop in, unannounced, at different times of day.
visiting the classroom
When you visit the classroom, watch the children interacting with the adults in the room. Look for natural conversations and affection between adults and children, rather than a forced cheerfulness, because you’re in the room.
Look at each of the centers in the room, to see if there are enough materials in each area for more than one or two children. Hopefully there are multiples of favorite toys, so no-one is forced to wait too long to share.
Look at the daily routine (daily schedule). Ideally, it should have alternating active and quiet activities. There should be large periods of the day when children are allowed to choose where they want to work in the room. Circle time shouldn’t be longer than 10-15 minutes for 2s and 15-20 minutes for preschoolers. Nap time shouldn’t be longer than 2 hours. There has to be one hour of outdoor time every day, weather permitting, if it’s a full day center.
For infants, nap time should be on demand, as should feeding (or according to the parent’s wishes). Children that are non-mobile should be moved to a different activity every 30 minutes, and protected from mobile infants. Mobile infants should have many opportunities to roll, crawl, walk, etc.
Does the room staff spend more time talking to each other than to the infant? Watch for adults making eye contact, smiling, describing what they’re doing and describing what the infant is doing, and gently and affectionately touching the children.
Look over the playground. Look at the equipment to see if it’s being maintained in a safe condition, and that there’s resilient surfacing under the equipment (usually mulch). Watch to see whether teachers are engaged with the children, or if they’re “clumping” together on the playground. Look to see if climbing equipment has an adult standing nearby.
For infants, they should be outside at least 60 minutes per day, weather permitting. Ask how often the babies are taken out, and whether they are allowed out of the stroller to play on the ground or age-appropriate equipment.