In 2015, the unimaginable loss of baby Karl Towndrow, a 3-month-old boy who was found unresponsive on his first day at daycare, broke our hearts. The news that he died during his midday nap at an unlicensed Soho childcare facility in New York City sent our minds racing, too, about how we make decisions around who takes care of our children when we aren’t there.

For most of us, choosing a day care is not only an emotional decision, but also a logistic one. How do you find a reputable, credible, licensed center that you can afford?

We pulled together tips + best practices from leading childcare + youth education organizations to help you to find the best childcare solution for your family. Here are the 6 steps to take.

1. Start planning.

  • In order to help make a daunting task less stressful, it is best to start early. Give yourself three to six months to find the right childcare option for your family, before your maternity leave. You don’t want to waste your precious cuddle time researching options online or touring centers.
  • Set up a meeting with someone from your local Child Care Resource and Referral [CCR&R] agency. This expert can help you navigate your options. Make sure to ask them if you qualify for any child care financial assistance programs.
  • Ask family members, friends and neighbors for recommendations or advice.
  • Make a list of all the important qualities you want your dream childcare center to have.

2. Check licensing, accreditation and qualifications.

3. Consider logistics.

  • Location: Do you want your child to be at a center near home, near where you work, near your partner’s workplace?
  • Hours: Do you need hours super early in the morning? Late at night? Overnight? Weekend hours?
  • Fees: What is the cost per child? Per additional child? How are payments made? Do they offer any financial assistance?
  • Staffing: What is the ratio of adults per children in each room? Who is the lead in each room? What are the credentials one must have to be the lead of the room? What happens when a staff member is out due to illness or time off?
  • Supervision: Will your child be supervised at all times including nap time, outdoor play, meal times, etc.?
  • Schedule and activities: Does each room follow a schedule? Are activities appropriate for each age range?

4. Study the environment + safety.

  • Does the center have a good overall reputation? Ask around.
  • Does the center offer a clean, sanitary and tidy environment for your little one? Is it up on its health and safety licensing?
  • Make sure all staff is CPR certified.
  • Is there a health professional (nurse, doctor, etc.) available if necessary?
  • Will the childcare provider communicate with you on a regular basis, providing feedback on how your child is doing?
  • Will they be taking your child anywhere outside of the childcare center campus, e.g. on walks or field trips? Are you okay with that? Ask the people who run the center whether they have proper carseats and seat belts, and be sure to see this equipment with your own eyes.
  • Ask how they handle emergencies.

5. Learn the philosophies.

  • Do you know the childcare center’s ideals and values? You want to have a partner-type relationship with your child’s day care provider, and it’s important to share the same core values.
  • How do they handle discipline? Does this align with the way your family does things?
  • Does the center welcome parents visiting? Is this important to you?

6. Once you choose your childcare center, stay involved. Here are top tips from Child Care Aware:

  • Have parent-caregiver meetings regularly, and ask questions.
  • Offer to volunteer time when needed, like participating in cleanup days and fixing broken toys.
  • Be there for your child’s birthday party.
  • Visit your child at childcare and read a book aloud.
  • Join in special events, like field trips, career day and holiday celebrations.
  • Remember, even if you can’t get time off from work during the day, you can still check in at drop-off and pickup times. Ask the caregiver how things are going and how your child is doing.