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Child care: Making the best choice for your family

Whether you work full-time, a few hours a week or have other outside commitments, choosing child care is an important decision. You want to ensure your child is in a safe, caring, and stimulating environment, with plenty of opportunities to learn and grow every day. You also want an open, positive relationship with your child’s caregiver(s).

Good child care providers:

  • Understand how children grow and develop.
  • Provide children with a stimulating environment and a many ways to learn.
  • Know how to respond to a child’s emotional needs.
  • Work with you and listen to your concerns.
  • Want to help your child reach any goals that you have set.

A good child care setting:

  • Is clean, safe and has a small number of children per staff member.
  • Has staff who are professionally qualified, fully immunized, and have had security checks.
  • Has areas for indoor and outdoor play.
  • Has a quiet space for rest or naps.
  • Is smoke-free, both outside and inside.
  • Has regular but flexible routines that include a variety of activities appropriate for your child’s age.
  • Has a variety of toys and equipment.
  • Serves nutritious meals and snacks.
  • Allows you to drop in, unannounced, for short periods of time.

What is the difference between a centre-based and home-based program?

Provinces and territories regulate and license centre-based and home-based child care programs in Canada.

Centre-based programs must be licensed and, depending on your province/territory, must employ trained staff. Centres must meet health and safety qualifications and standards set by the province or territory.

Home-based programs don’t need to be licensed. Some home-based providers do, however, choose to be licensed and supervised by provincial/territorial home child care agencies. Often these agencies are run by local municipalities. Home-based programs provide a more flexible, less structured environment, and might be next door or down the street.

Unlicensed home-based programs are often just as good as licensed ones, but your child is not protected by provincial regulations, such as those related to fire safety and playground equipment standards. The best ways to ensure your child will get quality care is to visit during operating hours and talk with parents whose children are already enrolled. You’ll need to do the things that a licensing agency would do, such as asking for a valid police check and ensuring the provider has taken safety precautions in the child care environment. 

What about part-time care?

Many centre and home-based providers to offer part-time care, but if you only need care for a portion of the day or week, you may want to consider other options.

Some families choose a combination of different types of care. For example:

  • If you work part-time or have a flexible schedule, you might consider playgroups or nursery school.
  • Sharing a nanny with another family.
  • In-home care by a family member for part of the day, and nursery school for the other part.

If you choose to go with more than one type of care, keep the following in mind:

  • If your child has to be taken to several different places each day, you’ll all be exhausted.
  • Avoid more than a couple of arrangements in your child’s schedule.
  • Try to avoid frequent changes to your child’s daily routine.
  • No matter where your child goes, make sure the care is high quality.
  • Pay close attention to your child. Is she comfortable and happy in each situation? Does she seem to be learning and growing well?

How do I find the right child care?

Start your search early, months before you go back to work or (in some places) even before your baby is born. Here are some questions to get started:

  • What kind of care would suit your child’s age and temperament?
  • What hours of the day do you require care?
  • Do you have more than one child who needs care?
  • What fee can you afford? Are you eligible for a government subsidy?
  • Do you prefer a centre-based setting or a home-based setting, and do you prefer licensed or unlicensed care?
  • Would it be more convenient near your home or close to work?

To help you find child care listings in your community, check:

  • Provincial/territorial government websites for child care centres.
  • Yellow Pages under Child Care or Day Care.
  • Your municipality’s website.
  • Local child or family service offices.
  • Local not-for-profit agencies and community information centres.
  • With friends in your area.

Once you have found a few potential caregivers or centres, phone them or check out their websites to answer some basic questions. Plan to visit the ones that fit your criteria.

When you visit:

  • Look carefully to see if the centre or home is clean and safe.
  • Watch and listen to the activity around you. Do children move and play freely?
  • Pay attention to how comfortable the children seem to be in the environment.
  • Observe how the caregivers interact with the children.
  • Ask to see the spaces where the children eat, play, and sleep.
  • Ask to see the outdoor play spaces.
  • If the provider is home-based, ask to meet any other family members who may have contact with the children.

Before making a decision, check references and talk to parents whose children have been enrolled for a while. Once you’ve made a decision, ask for a contract to clarify fees, receipts and method/frequency of payment, hours of care, vacation and illness policies, and any other issues that might be relevant.

How can I prepare my child to start in child care?

  • It could take your child a few days or weeks to adjust to a new situation. While this is perfectly normal, you should watch for signs of a bad fit or if your child is unusually fearful about going to child care.
  • Plan a gradual transition into child care a few weeks before your return to work so thing are familiar before your child’s first full day.
  • This will be an emotional time for both you and your child. Allow yourself and your child the time you need to adjust. 
  • Talk to your child each day about her experience so you have a sense of how well it’s going.

How can I maintain a good relationship with our child care provider?

  • Let your provider know how you prefer to communicate (by e-mail, phone, in writing, or through conversation). 
  • Tell your child care provider about any difficulties your child is having at home, for example, if he isn’t sleeping or eating well, or is having any trouble with behaviour. Let caregivers know if there are any changes that might cause your child to feel stressed or worried.
  • Voice any concerns right away to keep communication open and your expectations clear.
  • Ask for a menu schedule so your family meals can complement what your child eats in the child care setting.
  • Respect your caregiver’s illness policy. If your child feels poorly, stay home or make arrangements for alternative care.
  • Respect your caregiver’s personal time. Don’t be late for pick-ups.


Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
Public Education Advisory Committee

Last Updated: August 2011