Finding the Right Child Care

WHAT IS “REGULATED CHILD CARE”?

The Maryland State Department of Education’s Office of Child Care (OCC) is responsible for all child care licensing and regulation in Maryland. OCC’s main goal is to make sure that safe child care is available to all Maryland families.

Regulated child care means that a caregiver has been licensed to operate by OCC and meets the minimum child health, safety, and program requirements set by Maryland law. A regulated caregiver must continue to meet those requirements in order to maintain licensure. The caregiver’s compliance with licensing regulations is monitored by OCC through regular on-site inspections of the child care program.

You may choose to have a friend or a relative come to your home to provide care for your child. Or you may wish to have a relative care for your child in the relative’s home. These are informal kinds of child care, and they are exempt from regulation under Maryland law. A friend or neighbor who occasionally “babysits” your child in her home for short periods is also exempt from regulation.

However, if you choose a caregiver who is not a relative and who is paid by you to care for your child outside of your home on a regular basis for 20 or more hours per month, the caregiver must be licensed in accordance with Maryland child care regulations. In Maryland, It is illegal for a non-relative or an agency to provide paid out-of-home child care for 20 or more hours per month on a regular basis without proper OCC licensure. A person or agency that provides Illegal child care is subject to civil and criminal penalties under State law.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO USE REGULATED CARE?

Before OCC will issue a license or certificate of registration to operate a child care facility:

  • the facility must pass an inspection verifying that it is safe, clean, and appropriate for child care use and meets all applicable health and fire codes;
  • there must be an adequate supply of safe and age-appropriate activity equipment and materials;
  • the caregiver and program staff must undergo police background checks, receive physical examinations; and complete a specified amount of pre service education or training in child care topics. Once the facility is in operation, The caregiver and staff must continue to receive training on a regular basis. Many caregivers choose to go beyond the minimum professional requirements set by licensing regulations and enhance the quality of care they offer by participating in the Maryland Child Care Credential Program.

Using illegal child care can be dangerous for children because an illegal caregiver has not met any of the health, safety, or professional standards required of regulated caregivers. The home or building where illegal child care is provided has not been inspected by OCC or local authorities to determine if the premises are safe or appropriate for child care purposes.

LOCATING REGULATED CAREGIVERS

In Maryland, there are two categories of regulated child care facilities: licensed child care centers and registered family child care homes (NOTE: under Maryland law “registration” is a form of licensure). Family child care homes are registered and regulated under COMAR 13A.14.01. Nearly all centers in Maryland are licensed and regulated under Code of Maryland Regulations COMAR 13A.14.02. Certain centers operated by tax-exempt religious organizations may be authorized to operate under a “letter of compliance” (which is also a form of licensure) and are regulated under COMAR 13A.14.05.

  • All licensed child care centers and registered family day care homes are initially authorized to operate for a period of two years. At the end of that period, a non-expiring license or registration may be issued that continues in effect until it is surrendered, suspended, or revoked. A non-expiring license or registration may also be placed on conditional (i.e., probationary) status if the center operator or family day care provider does not comply with certain State requirements.
  • All licensed child care centers and registered family day care homes are routinely inspected at least three times every two years. Two of these inspections are unannounced “drop-in” visits that are intended primarily to determine if child health and safety requirements are being met. The third inspection is an announced inspection that includes a comprehensive review of program records as well as an assessment of child health and safety compliance.

Child Care Centers are professionally staffed facilities which generally serve large groups of children. While centers vary greatly in size, each one must remain within the maximum child capacity established for it by OCC. This means that no more than a specified number of children may be present in a given center at one time. Centers operate for part or all of a day at least twice a week on a regular basis.

  • Some centers primarily provide care for infants and toddlers. Other centers care only for preschool or school-age children. Most centers provide care for a range of ages.
  • In many centers, children are usually grouped with others of the same age. Other centers often use mixed-age groups (for example, infants or toddlers grouped with preschoolers, or preschoolers grouped with school-age children).
  • For child supervision and safety purposes, child care regulations specify a maximum size for each group that is based on the ages of the children in the group. The same basis is used to establish a minimum staff-child ratio for each group.
  • Small group centers have a maximum capacity of 12 children and may be located in private residences.
  • School-age child care centers offer programs before and/or after school hours and during school holidays and vacations.
  • Nursery schools are educational programs for children 2 years through 4 years old. These programs are approved by the Maryland State Department of Education. Most are also licensed by OCC as child care programs.

Family Child Care Homes are child care programs operated by professional caregivers in private residences.

  • No more than eight children may be present for care in the home at the same time. No more than two of these children, including the caregiver’s own, may be under two years old unless additional staff are present.
  • Under no circumstances may more than four children under the age of two be present at the same time.
  • Family child care homes typically operate for at least eight hours per day and usually offer flexible scheduling.
  • Like many child care centers, some family child care homes serve only certain age groups or children who have special needs.
  • The Maryland Family Network operates a statewide resource and referral system called the Maryland Child Care Resource Network (MCCRN)One of the goals of this system is to help Maryland families locate and evaluate child care programs. The MCCRN consists of 12 community-based agencies located throughout the state. Each agency maintains a list of all currently licensed centers and registered family child care homes and can provide program-specific information (hours, costs, etc.) about thousands of caregivers. Parents are usually able to receive referrals to a number of caregivers near where they live or work.
  • As with many other types of professional services and small businesses, child care programs are often advertised in telephone directories, local newspapers, and on community bulletin boards located in shopping centers, churches, etc. While using these resources to locate a caregiver is a perfectly reasonable approach, be prepared for some “trial and error” since many advertisements don’t contain much program information (such as hours of operation, ages served, or whether new enrollments are currently being taken). Before following up on an advertisement, be sure it states that the center or home is approved by the MSDE Office of Child Care. Maryland law requires any person advertising a family child care program to include the OCC registration number in the advertisement.
  • Talk with friends, neighbors, and co-workers who use child care to find out if the programs they use might be suitable for your child and have enrollment openings. An obvious advantage of this “word-of-mouth” approach is that you can learn from others what their experiences have been with particular caregivers. But no matter how valuable their information or advice might be, keep in mind that their experiences have involved their own children – your goal is to find the caregiver that will be right for your child.

FINDING THE RIGHT CAREGIVER FOR YOUR CHILD

Finding an available caregiver in your area may take time. Finding the right caregiver for your child may take even more time. If possible, begin looking a few months before your child will need care. Allow several weeks for visiting different child care centers and family day care homes to get a first-hand look at their programs and compare their services.

In planning your visits, it is important to observe a child care facility when children are involved in program activities. That will give you an opportunity to see if the children like the program and how they get along with program staff. This may also give you an idea of how well the program suits your child. If you find a facility you think is suitable, try to come back for a second visit and take your child. Does your child seem comfortable there? After the visit, try to find out from your child how he or she felt about the facility.

Before you visit any child care program, it is best to call the program and talk with the family child care provider or child care center director to get some basic information. The first thing you should is to ask if the program is currently licensed or registered by the Office of Child Care. The following are some other questions you may want to ask:

  • What time do you open and close?
  • How much do you charge, and when are payments made? Weekly? Monthly?
  • Does the price include meals and snacks, or do I need to bring food for my child?
  • Are your services and fees written down in the form of a contract or service agreement?
  • Do you have a schedule of times when your program will be closed (for holidays, staff vacations, etc.)? What are your policies regarding closure due to unforeseen circumstances (illness, severe weather, etc.)? Will I be charged for those days?
  • If for some reason my child can no longer attend your program, how much advance notification would you require?
  • How many other children are in your program, and what are their ages?
  • What kinds of activities are offered on a daily basis?

If you are uncomfortable with the answers to any of these questions, the facility is probably not the right one for you and you can cross it off your “programs to visit” list..

When you visit the facility, there are three main things you should look for to make sure the program is the right one for you and your child. These three things are:

  1. the caregiver
  2. the children
  3. the space within the facility which is used for child care.

Look at the Caregiver

  1. Can you talk easily with the caregiver? Are you comfortable with the person or the staff? Do you feel you can trust the caregiver?
  2. Does the caregiver seem to enjoy being with the children? Is he/she really listening and responding to them?
  3. Is the caregiver able to keep up with the children, or does he/she seem overly tired?
  4. Are the children supervised at all times?
  5.  How does the caregiver discipline the children? Be aware that Maryland law forbids corporal punishment.
  6. Does the caregiver use a calm voice? Does he/she speak to the children on their own level?
  7. Does the program have written policies and procedures? If so, do parents receive copies?

Look at the Children

  1. Do the children seem to enjoy being with the caregiver?
  2. Are the children given a chance to make choices? Are they able to “explore” on their own?
  3. Do the children seem to understand and follow the program’s rules and routines?

Look at the Space Used for Child Care

  1. Is the caregiver’s child care license or registration displayed? Is it current?
  2. Does the program area look clean and safe?
  3. Do the children wash their hands before eating and after using the toilet?
  4. Are cleaning supplies, sharp objects, medicines, and other dangerous items put away out of the children’s reach?
  5. Is there enough space indoors and outdoors so all the children have room to play? Is the outdoor play area safe?
  6. Is there enough heat, light, and ventilation?
  7. Are there fire extinguishers and smoke detectors?
  8. Are all toys and materials in good condition? Are they suitable for the children’s ages? Can the children reach them easily?
  9. If meals and snacks are provided by the program, are they nutritious? Are they the kinds of food you want your child to eat?
  10. In general, does the program have a safe, healthy, and happy “feel” to it? Is it a place where children can be children?

If you can answer “yes” to all these questions after your visit, you probably found the right facility for you and your child. But you also have to listen to your instincts: if you feel uncomfortable with the facility for any reason, you should look for another one.

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