What to look for in Child Care
Aug. 27 2019

What to look for in Child Care

What to look for in child care

Choosing good child care is an important decision.  Quality child care during the early years leads to healthy growth and development.  It takes time, patience and an understanding of what to look for when getting ready to choose child care.  Many people even plan their pregnancies around a quality program’s availability!

First, parents must choose a type of program they want to enroll their children in; New York State offers multiple types of licensed care:

  • Family/Group Family Day Care: this is child care that occurs in the daycare provider’s personal home. Family Day Cares may care for up to 8 children when at least two of the children are school-aged and a maximum of two children under the age
  • of two.  Group Family Day Cares care for double the Family Day Care capacity when at least one assistant is present. Parents that choose home-based day care, often do so because they want their children to have the same child care provider from enrollment until age 12.  Home-based child cares offer more flexibility in hours – some are open as early as 4:00 AM or are willing to care for children overnight.
  • Day care center/Small Day Care Center: this is child care that occurs in a commercial space. These programs hire qualified staff for each age group and children are separated by age range.  Children transition from room to room as they grow older.
  • School-age Child Care: this child care specifically for children are in school – in kindergarten or a higher grade. If children are enrolled in kindergarten with a start date of attendance for the following September, they may attend a school-age child care program the summer before they actually attend kindergarten.

All of the above have strict regulations they must adhere to in order to operate in New York State.  Violations are posted on the Office of Children and Family Service’s (OCFS) website (ocfs.ny.gov) and remain available to the public for 6 years.  Additionally, programs must post their compliance history in a visible place at the site.

All caregivers working in licensed and registered programs, and anyone over 18 years old living in the home, are required to be fingerprinted and undergo New York State criminal history and child abuse and maltreatment background checks, and newer caregivers are also subject to an additional layer of background checks.

If you are choosing a program that is not licensed or registered, the following databases can help you research the background of the caregiver and other adults living in the home:

  • New York State Public Registry of Sex Offenders: criminaljustice.ny.gov/nsor
  • New York State Department of Corrections & Community Supervision: nysdoccslookup.doccs.ny.gov
  • New York State Police Wanted Persons: troopers.ny.gov
  • FBI Wanted Persons: fbi.gov/newyork


What is illegal child care?

Many programs advertise that they care for children, but are not actually licensed to operate in New York State.  New York State defines child care as care for a child on a regular basis, away from the child’s home, for less than 24 hours per day, by someone other than the parent, step-parent, guardian, or relative within the third degree of consanguinity of the parents or step-parents of such child.

Child day care programs are required to be licensed or registered under New York State Social Services Law Section 390 and by the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) Child Day Care Regulations (all are available on ocfs.ny.gov).  The following are types of illegal care that the Office investigates:

  • Family Day Care Home/Group Family Day Care Home: caring for more than two (2) non-relative children, for more than three (3) hours per day per child, that is located in a personal residence; caring for nine (9) or more children if any is a non-relative child, for more than three (3) hours per day per child, that is located in a personal residence
  • Day Care Center/Small Day Care Center: caring for more than two (2) non-relative children, for more than three (3) hours per day per child, that is not located in a personal residence
  • School-age Child Care: caring for more than six (6) non-relative children, during non-school hours, including school vacation periods and holidays, that is not located in a personal residence. See also OCFS policy statement – What Constitutes a School Age Child Care Program available at ny.gov

If OCFS determines that an individual is operating a child care program that requires a license or registration, the individual is notified and of the individual’s rights to dispute the determination. Operation of an illegal child care program can result in fines of $500 per day and other legal action.


What do I do if I know someone is operating an illegal child care facility?

Call the complaint line at (800) 732-5207. Some people hesitate to call in illegals, but please remember that there are usually safety concerns when a person operates a child care facility illegally.

Staff and household members do not have background checks, there is no formal programming, the environment has not been checked for safety issues, etc. Many people operating illegal facilities do not know the law and come into compliance immediately.


I’ve decided which type of child care I want to send my child to…now what?

To find licensed and registered programs, visit the OCFS website and visit the section titled “Search for Child Care.” The OCFS website allows you to search by a variety of factors including zip code and school district.

Make appointments to visit!

Once you’ve made a list of convenient options, make appointments to visit programs.  It is important to see how a provider cares and interacts with children.  Ask questions and ask to speak to other parents as a form of a “reference.”

If you’re unsure if a person is licensed with the state, ask to see their license and compliance history. Ask to see their written daily schedule, behavior management plan, and emergency plans.

Ask yourself the following:

Are you comfortable with the number of children the provider is caring for? Does the environment seem inviting? Are meals provided for the child by the program? Does the provider participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program, ensuring that the meals and snacks provided are healthy? Are there options of activities for a child to choose from? Most importantly, is this a safe environment for my child?

Selecting child care is an important decision that requires time, effort and consideration. Parents and guardians are the best judge of the needs of their children and families.  Please make sure that if you have any questions during this process, you reach out to all of the resources you have available.


By Jennifer Benn, Director of Daycare Registration and CACFP