Child Care Aware Parent Services
Are you a parent looking for child care?
Selecting a caregiver is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. Finding high-quality child care is important for your child's well-being, as research shows high-quality child care can have a positive impact on a child's overall development.
Turn to Child Care Aware for:
- Locating child care and preschool programs that best meet your individual family needs.
- Individual referrals to family child care homes, centers and preschool programs.
- Consultation and assistance in evaluating and choosing appropriate child care.
- Information about Minnesota licensing regulations.
- A parent toolkit to help guide your visits to child care providers and assist in selecting a provider.
- A handout on choosing quality child care.
Two ways to use referral services
Child Care Aware agencies make child care referrals, not recommendations. Child Care Aware cannot guarantee information concerning any providers. Child Care Aware strongly urges parents to interview and check references carefully before leaving a child with a care provider. Child Care Aware does not license, endorse or recommend any particular provider, nor does Child Care Aware assure clients any provider gives quality care.
Call or e-mail us
Contact us via phone, 1-800-890-5399, or e-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Get free individual assistance from a child care referral specialist who will search for child care that meets your specific needs.
Use our Internet self-search program
Visit our internet self-search program, a FREE online child care database.
All private information parents or guardians give to the NE District Child Care Aware, for a child care search, is confidential. Parent names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses or other information regarding their children will not be shared without written consent.
Types of Child Care
You have many options in choosing child care. Though there is not one type that is the best for all families, you have to select the type of care that will meet the needs of your family and your child.
Licensed Family Child Care Home
A licensed family child care home is one where the caregiver has met the minimum requirements for a license to care for children in his/her home. They are licensed by the Minnesota Department of Human Services through the county they live in. Family child care providers are self-employed, and set their own business policies, including rates and contracts. Some advantages of family child care are the home-like environment, interaction of age groups so siblings may be together, and flexible hours. Some disadvantages are that there may not be children of the same age enrolled in the program, caregivers usually work alone and do not have a replacement, and care is not supervised on a daily basis.
Child Care Centers
Child care centers are licensed by the State of Minnesota, through the Department of Human Services, and can provide care for larger groups of children. They are usually in a separate building, church, school, or other facility such as a community center. Centers usually group children of the same age together and have a more structured schedule. Some advantages of center care are more adults to oversee the children, children are with others of the same ages, and there is no need for back up care. Some disadvantages are the larger setting that may seem impersonal at first, there may be a high staff turnover causing caregivers to change, and day is more structured as far as nap, meal and play times.
School age programs offer care for children in Kindergarten through sixth grade, before and after school and when school is not is session. These programs may be located in local schools, community centers, or homes, and may not be required to have a license. Some advantages of this type of care are the location which may be in the child's school and frequent group activities and/or field trips. Disadvantages can be that the children do not have enough of a break from school and that the group may be large in size.
Preschool programs are usually part day and part week sessions. These programs are not designed to be primary child care, but to offer an opportunity for the children to prepare for school and interact with other children their age. These programs are located in their own buildings, community centers and churches. These programs are usually for children 3 to 5 years old. Advantages of preschool are the opportunity for children to socialize with other children their own the activities they do that will help prepare them for school. Disadvantages are the limited hours they are open and the strict policies they may have regarding ages of children they enroll in the program.
Family, Friend and Neighbor Care (Legally Unlicensed)
These care givers are limited to care for children that are related to them and/or one unrelated family. The advantages of using a family member, friend or neighbor to care for children are the home-like setting, you know the provider, schedules may be more flexible, and it may be more affordable. The disadvantages are that this type of care is unregulated, the group size may be large, there is no training required, and caregiver may be unreliable.
In-home care is where the caregiver comes to hour home or lives with you. Most in-home providers are friends, family members or nannies. In-home care givers are not licensed, and may or may not have had any training or experience. You are their employer, and will be required to pay taxes, withhold Social Security, and provide worker's compensation insurance and possibly benefits.
Child to Adult Ratios
In choosing child care, check the ratios of children to adults. An important indicator of high quality child care is that the number of children per adult provider is small enough so that each child receives sufficient individual attention and care. State licensing has established ratios of the number of children to adult providers that licensed providers must adhere to. See the various types of child care licenses and the ratios of children to adults.
What is high quality child care?
Caregivers have training in child development
Training in child development is very important. The caregiver should understand how children develop, their stages of growth and their behavior at various ages. Although specialized training is a key indicator of quality, it's best to look for a provider who has both training and experience.
Group size is small
Children benefit from the individual attention possible in smaller groups. State licensing rules set standards for how many children of various ages may be cared for by one adult. However, some licensed homes and centers care for fewer children or have more adults to attend to children in smaller groups.
Focused on children's needs
The high quality program is responsive to each child and is focused on children's needs. Caregivers are prepared to meet children's physical, social, intellectual and emotional needs as the children grow and change. Differences among children's cultures and needs are respected and celebrated.
The care is consistent
Consistent care from a sensitive, responsive caregiver is the foundation for healthy development, building the child's security, confidence and a sense of well-being. The presence of a regular caregiver and minimal turnover in staff are essential elements of high quality child care.
The program is accredited
Accredited programs have gone above and beyond state licensing requirements. They have taken additional training and meet quality standards set by national organizations. Becoming accredited is voluntary.
How to Interview Child Care Providers
Questions to ask over the phone of prospective child care providers:
- Is there an opening at the time I will need child care?
- Is there a waiting list for care in the future?
- How many children do you care for?
- What are their ages (including the provider's own children)?
- What experience do you have in providing child care?
- What hours/days are you open? Can you be flexible?
- Do you provide transportation? To which schools/activities?
- Is there an additional fee?
- Is your program smoke-free 24-hours-a-day?
- Are there any pets in the program?
- What meals and snacks are provided, and are they included in your fee?
- What are your rates?
- What is the payment policy for holidays, vacation and sick days?
- When is a good time to visit your program and arrange an interview?
Questions to ask during a meeting of prospective child care providers:
Health and Safety
- What are your emergency procedures and are they posted?
- Do you practice evacuation drills?
- How would I be notified in case of an emergency?
- Are child taken off the premises? How and when would I be notified? How are children transported?
- What is your policy for administering medication?
- Are hands always washed before eating and after diapering? (Do you see hands being washed?)
- Where and how frequently will my baby's diapers be changed?
- What precautions are taken to reduce the spread of illness? What do you use to sanitize?
Space and the Environment
- Based on your observation, is the space clean, safe and comfortable?
- Where will the children sleep, play and eat?
- Are babies always put to sleep on their back on a firm, flat surface in a crib or playpen?
- How are children supervised at all times?
- How often are children taken outdoors?
Activities and Materials
- Describe a typical day in your program. What activities are children involved in?
- Are there areas for quiet play as well as active play?
- Are items displayed at the child's level so the child can easily choose toys and materials to play with?
- How do you decide which toys are appropriate?
- Can children bring a special item from home, such as a toy or blanket?
- How often do you read with the children?
- Tell me how you plan activities to promote my child's development.
- How much screen time (TV, computer, video games) is typical?
- Observe how the caregiver responds to the children.
- What is your policy on guidance and discipline?
- What are the rules and how do the children know them?
- How do you settle disputes?
- What are your feelings on wetting, thumb-sucking, pacifiers, finishing meals, biting, etc?
- Ask "What if..." questions. (What if my child hits you? What if my child bites another child? What if my child won't take a nap?)
Training and Experience
- Tell me about your experiences caring for children. Do you have a philosophy on child-rearing?
- How many hours of training have you had? Get specific information on the caregivers who will be with your child.
- Tell me what you've learned in recent workshops. How will you keep me updated on your training?
- How long do you anticipate providing child care?
- Can I drop in any time unannounced?
- Who are all the people who would be around my child? Are they screened? May I meet them?
- Is your license posted? Would I be informed if you were out of compliance?
- Can you provide me with contact information for references?
- After the interview, contact the county social services to find out if the provider has been in compliance with the rules.
- Please explain your written policies and contract.
- How will we build effective communication? How would we settle disputes?
- How would any disputes between us be settled?
- Are parents encouraged to become involved with the program? How?
Check references -- call and chat with parents who have used the child care provider you are considering. Here is an example of how to introduce yourself and questions when checking references. "My name is Jane Doe, and I am considering using Child Care Company A for my child care. I understand you have used Child Care Company A in the past; would you be willing to answer a few questions?"
Questions to ask
- How would you describe the care provided to your child?
- What concerns, if any, did you have about the provider?
- Did the provider listen to your concerns?
- Would you recommend this child care program?
Licensing of Child Care Providers
During your search for child care, you may wish to contact the county licensor for background information on a provider you are considering. The following list has County, Tribal, and State Licensing numbers. Child care providers in Minnesota are governed by rules set by the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Family child care providers have certain rules enforced by the county licensor, and centers have another set of rules enforced by a state licensor. A licensed provider means the program has met minimum licensing requirements and does not always mean the program is high-quality. Licensors do the required background studies, home inspections, and monitor menus, activities, provider training and enrollment. You can also visit the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) licensing information lookup to access public information on child care programs licensed by DHS.
Making Your Decision
Review the information you have gathered in each step. Call back if you have any unanswered questions. Trust your instincts. It's okay to be a choosy parent!
Questions to ask yourself
- What is my overall impression of each program?
- Will my child be happy there?
- Do I feel comfortable there? Does my child feel comfortable?
- How will my child fit in with the routine and with the other children?
- Do the providers seem to care about my child as an individual?
- Do I feel welcome and valued?
- Am I going to feel comfortable leaving my child each day?
- Do I have any doubts?
- What did the references tell me?
If you are not comfortable with the programs you have considered, keep looking. Call NE District Child Care Aware for additional names of providers. If a program that you like is full, consider putting your name on a waiting list in case your current program does not work out. Once you have made your decision, notify the provider that you would like to enroll. As a courtesy, notify the other providers you were considering that you will not be using their programs.
Paying for Child Care
Here are the average rates charged by family child care providers in your county. For further information, please contact NE District Child Care Aware at 1-800-890-5399. Also, visit the Child Care Assistance Program Website for more information.
Child Care Assistance
The Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) helps families pay for child care costs for all children age 12 and younger, and for special-needs children through age 14. The child care being used must be pre-approved and the parent must be working 20 or more hours per week at minimum wage or higher, job-searching or going to school. There is no limit on how long a family may receive Child Care Assistance as long as the family income is within the program limits for the family's size and the child is age-eligible. Basic Sliding Fee requires that a family be at 75 percent of the state median income to be eligible for Child Care Assistance. In most counties, there is a waiting list for this program.
Minnesota Family Investment Program
Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) is the current welfare program a family may be part of for up to 60 months (5 years). MFIP families are eligible for Child Care Assistance immediately and are not placed on a waiting list. They need to be job searching or employed 20 or more hours per week.
Transition Year Child Care Assistance
Transition Year Child Care Assistance is for families who are moving off MFIP and continue to receive child care assistance for up to one year. After this year, families are eligible to receive Basic Sliding Fee. If there is a waiting list, these families get priority.
Assistance for Military
The Department of Defense wants to help you pay for child care. More about military benefits.
Making child care work
With a little planning, the transition to child care or to a new caregiver can go smoothly. Here are some ideas to help prepare you and your child for this step.
Show that you feel comfortable with your choice. Even young children can sense when a parent is anxious. Be positive and confident about the new caregiver.
Talk with your child. Talk with your child about what he/she will do at the new program; for example, an activity you observed, toys you saw when you visited or where lunch is served. For some children, engaging in play-acting about going to child care can help relieve anxiety and add to the excitement.
If possible, start gradually. Visit the caregiver with your child several times, if you can. If the caregiver is willing, allow your child to stay with the caregiver without you for short amounts of time.
Adjust naptime. If possible, change your child's naptime in advance to match the new caregiver's routine.
Take a favorite item along. A blanket, a favorite photo or a treasured stuffed animal can be a comfort to your child during time away from you. It's a good idea to check with your caregiver first before bringing items.
Make drop-off and pick-up a happy time. If you build a familiar routine, your child knows what to expect when you leave and return. Allow enough time in the morning so that no one feels rushed. A special good-bye ritual can be reassuring to both of you. Never slip away without saying good-bye. Try to pick your child up at the same time every day.
Don't forget to take care of you. Sometimes, a new child care arrangement is more difficult for parents than for children. Some parents find it reassuring to check in with the caregiver to see how things are going
Communicating with Your Caregiver
You and your caregiver are partners in caring for your child. It's very important to everyone that you, your child, and the caregiver communicate regularly with one another. Ongoing communication can help you feel more involved with your child's care and help build a solid, trusting relationship.
Touch base with your caregiver at drop-off and at pick-up times. These brief exchanges of important information, such as your child having had a restless night or not wanting to eat much lunch, can help provide a smooth transition between child care and home. In addition, develop a system with your caregiver to get more in-depth information. Some caregivers have a bulletin board or newsletter. You can also talk on the phone, exchange notes or schedule meetings.
What you can do
- Share changes in your child's eating, napping or toileting habits; changes in mood; likes and dislikes.
- Report significant family changes, such as a new pet, moving to a new home or a visitor.
- Ask how your child is doing in the program.
- Abide by your caregiver's policies.
- Show appreciation by expressing thanks, writing a note, bringing a treat, volunteering to help, etc.
What the caregiver can do
- Discuss changes in your child's eating, napping or toileting habits; changes in mood; likes and dislikes.
- Report issues with other children in a way that respects the privacy of other families and provide positive suggestions for action.
- Introduce new children in the group.
- Keep you informed regarding contagious illnesses.
- Update you on program changes such as staff or schedule.
- Inform you of new activities.
Monitoring your child's program
You are the best judge of whether a program is working for your child and family. That's why it is very important that you monitor your child's program continuously. Caregivers should welcome parent visits at any time. However, keep in mind that certain times of the day are very busy and the caregiver may have limited time to spend with you. As children grow, their needs change. Programs and enrollments may also change over time. It's important to evaluate your choice of care regularly.
How to monitor
- Make unexpected visits.
- Occasionally stay a little longer when you drop off or pick up your child.
- Occasionally pick your child up at a time different from your normal time.
- Volunteer to help with special events or field trips.
- Arrange a conference to talk with your caregiver about your child or any concerns.
The Minnesota Parental Leave Law
State law allows you to leave work to attend a child's conference or activity. You may also leave work to drop in on your child care provider. Try to arrange time off with your employer in advance. The parental leave law applies to all employees in Minnesota and allows them up to 16 hours of unpaid leave in a year. This law applies to all children (from birth through twelfth grade) who are in a family child care home; a child care center; a half-day or preschool program; Head Start; pre-kindergarten; regular or special education; or school.
Contract with Your Provider
Many child care providers have a written contract that outlines expectations of both the provider and the parents. Read the contract carefully before signing it. If you both agree, the contract can be changed to accommodate your wishes. Contracts typically address the following:
- Cost of child care, when payment is expected, overtime fees, vacations and paid/unpaid holidays.
- Policies for discipline, transportation, meals and field trips.
- Arrival and pick-up times and penalties for late pick-up.
- Back-up plans: how to handle emergencies and guidelines for determining if your child is too sick for care, etc.
- Changing or ending the contract: when and how to change or end it by either the parents or provider.
Child Care Aware will provide parents with a list of child care providers. This list is based on answers to questions parents answer over the telephone. All information we give to parents about a child care program comes from the caregiver. Child Care Aware updates this information over the telephone at least one time each year. Openings and enrollment are updated approximately every eight weeks.
Child Care Aware suggests you call several child care providers before deciding who will care for your child(ren). Ask the providers questions about their child care business. Ask if you can visit their programs. The Northeast Child Care Aware does not license child care providers. We cannot recommend child care providers. We do not guarantee that parents will find a quality child care program when care is needed.
Child Care Aware strives to give all our customers correct information and all the resources they need. We keep all information we gather confidential. We also are committed to promoting high education and resources & services to all parents, providers and community members we work with. Child Care Aware is dedicated to providing high quality education, information and services to all those we serve. We serve parents, child care providers and community members. We try to provide accurate, timely and many related resources that meet our customers' needs. All customers are treated with courtesy and respect. We will treat confidential information appropriately and resolve any concerns, problems, inquiries or complaints quickly.
When the NE District Child Care Aware receives a complaint about our services, the person filing the complaint is treated kindly and with respect. If the complaint can be handled by the staff member who has been contacted, a resolution may be immediate. In that case, a verbal report is given to the Program Director. However, the person making the complaint is also given the choice of talking with the Program Director directly. The Program Director will discuss the situation, and if necessary, take action. If the problem cannot be resolved at this point, the next levels of supervision will address the needs of the customer.