Child Care Provider reading to 3 children

Choosing Quality Child Care

Why is quality child care important for children?

Quality child care programs promote the emotional, social, physical, intellectual and creative development of all children.  They promote the emotional, social, physical, intellectual, and creative development of all children. Since young children spend so much of their time in the care of people other than their parents/guardians, attention to the quality of available care is important. Research shows that the quality of the programs can have a significant impact on the daily lives and future achievements of their children. 

What is quality child care?

A quality child care program is a safe, loving, and nurturing environment that supports healthy growth and development, challenges young children to learn, and prepares them for kindergarten. The following are important points to consider when choosing a child care program: 

  • A healthy and safe environment: Children engage in active play, have healthy snacks and meals, wash hands regularly, and have access to fresh air and safe playground equipment. 
  • Opportunities for exploration and learning: Positive and stimulating environments support children’s natural curiosity.  
  • Developmentally appropriate practices: Activities match each child’s developmental age, interests, abilities, and family background. 
  • Quality relationships: Providers build positive relationships with the children and their families. 
  • Predictable and appropriate routines: Staff provide a rhythm for feeding, napping, toileting, etc. 
  • Provider qualifications: Child care providers are trained and qualified. 
  • Adult-to-child ratio and group size: There is an appropriate number of children for each provider and a small group size. 

What are the different types of child care?

Child care options include the following:

  • Licensed Family Child Care Home: a private small business run out of a house, apartment, or condo.
  • Licensed Child Care Center: a larger business with fixed hours of operation that can serve a larger number of children.
  • License-exempt Child Care: care provided by friend, family, neighbor, nanny, or au pair.
  • School-Age Child Care: child care provided before and after school hours.

What is meant by a licensed program?

Every state has a licensing agency for child care programs. In California, a licensed child care program has to meet the California State Child Care licensing standards for health and safety, staff qualifications and background checks, safe infant sleep, ratios and group size, emergency preparedness plans, and more:

What is the best fit for your family?

The decision to choose a child care center, family child care home, or license-exempt care may depend on various factors such as availability, cost, hours, and location. However, the type of program a family selects should be the one that best fits the individual needs of the child and family.

How do child care programs provide a healthy and safe environment? 

Child care programs have policies and practices to ensure the safety of all enrolled children.  These typically involve: 

  • Emergency preparedness 
  • Incidental medical services, including medication administration 
  • Indoor and outdoor facilities and equipment 
  • Child-to-staff ratios 
  • Caregiver interaction with children 
  • Appropriate physical activity and nutrition 
  • Personal hygiene, including handwashing 
  • Food safety 
  • Environmental health, including building structure and cleaning products used 
  • Infant- and/or toddler-specific care, including diapering, injury prevention, and sleep  

How to look for child care

Updated August 2023, UCSF California Childcare Health Program

This article was made possible with funding from the UCSF Chancellor's Fund.

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