Choosing the right child care provider can be confusing. We’ve created this guide of important questions you should ask potential providers when you visit—to help you to look, listen and ask.
Licensing & Ratings
With so many different choices, selecting the right child care can be confusing. From licensed child care centers to registered child care homes, there are many options you need to explore. Also, keep in mind that not all child care providers are required to follow the rules necessary to be licensed by the state.
In addition to being licensed, child care providers can choose to be rated as well. Providers who enroll in the ABC Quality Rating and Improvement System meet higher quality standards that go beyond licensing requirements to achieve their rating, including standards for nutrition and physical activities.
Questions to Ask
- Is the provider licensed? If so, is the license displayed?
- Do they participate in the ABC Quality rating program? Search for their rating.
Child Care Building
All indoor and outdoor areas used by children must be safe, clean, and sanitary. Children must not be exposed to household cleaners or other poisonous substances. Also, floors, walls, ceilings, windows, doors, and other surfaces must be free from hazards such as peeling paint, broken or loose parts, loose or torn flooring or carpeting, sharp edges, splinters, exposed bolts, and openings that could cause a child harm. Playground equipment must be safe and sturdy, free from rust or poisonous materials, and cannot have sharp objects. It must also have approved cushioning material underneath it. Outdoor metal equipment must be located in shaded areas that are protected from the sun.
Questions to Ask
- Are floors, walls, ceilings, windows, doors, and other surfaces free from hazards such as peeling paint, rust, broken or loose parts, loose or torn flooring, sharp edges, splinters, exposed bolts, and openings that could harm a child?
- Is playground equipment safe and sturdy, free from rust or poisonous materials and without sharp objects?
- Is outdoor metal playground equipment in a shaded area? Is the area safe, clean, and free of litter?
- Are children restricted from traffic, parking, areas, ditches, and steep slopes either by a fence or natural barrier at least 4ft high?
- Are cleaning products and other harmful substances kept away from children?
- Is there cushioning material, such as mulch or sand, under playground equipment?
Health & Safety
Staff must make sure that the hands and faces of children are clean. Furniture, toys, and other equipment that come into contact with the mouths of children must be washed and sanitized immediately. Linens, blankets, cribs, cots, and mats must be cleaned at least weekly. Staff should wash their hands frequently, especially after diapering children. Centers must have fire and health inspections. There must be at least one staff member trained in CPR and First Aid present in the center at all times. Centers should have written plans for emergencies, including a plan for evacuating the children from the center in the event of a fire.
Questions to Ask
- Can the provider produce records of fire and health inspections and/or does it appear sanitary and safe?
- Is at least one staff member present at all times who is trained in CPR and First Aid? Is a First Aid kit available?
- Do cribs and other equipment meet federal standards?
- Does the provider have a written plan for emergencies, including a plan for evacuating the children in the event of a fire? Do they practice emergency drills?
- Are smoke detectors available?
- Does staff make sure that children’s hands and faces are clean?
- Are furniture, toys, and other equipment that come into contact with the mouths of children washed and sanitized immediately?
- Are linens, blankets, cribs, cots, and mats cleaned at least weekly?
- Does staff wash their hands frequently, especially after diapering children? Do they use gloves?
Few factors determine the quality of a child’s care more than the individuals providing it. Therefore, it is crucial that all persons employed by a child care center meet certain criteria. To work in a child care center, every adult must pass background checks, including federal and state fingerprint checks through the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
- Anyone who has committed an act of child abuse or neglect as defined by law cannot work in a child care facility.
- Teachers must be at least 18 years old and center directors must be at least 21 years old, and they must meet certain educational requirements.
- Teachers must complete 15 hours of training each year; center directors are required to complete 20 hours.
Questions to Ask
- Are all teachers at least 18 years old?
- If they are required to have a director, is he or she at least 21 years old?
- Does the provider require staff to receive regular, ongoing training about child care?
- Have the staff had criminal background checks, including fingerprinting?
There must always be a certain number of adults present to supervise children; this varies by the age of the children in the room. In addition to ratios, there are other important regulations that are related to the supervision of children:
- Children must be directly supervised at all times by qualified staff.
- Children in feeding chairs must be constantly supervised.
- Children must be accounted for at all times. This means that staff must have a written plan and account for children whether entering or exiting the center, or traveling from room to room within the center, or during transportation to a new location.
- Except in certain emergencies, centers can only serve as many children as they are licensed to keep. The capacity, or number of children, is listed on the license, and centers are required to post a copy of their license for everyone to see
Questions to Ask
- Is there enough staff caring for the number of children present?
- Is staff near the children and able to give individual attention to a child when needed?
- Are children in feeding chairs constantly watched? Are children removed from feeding chairs when mealtime is over?
- Are children accounted for at all times, including headcounts as they enter or leave the building? Do teachers count and call the names of the children, as they enter or leave the building?
- Is there enough space for the children? If the provider is licensed, are there more children present than the number listed on the license?
Meals and Snacks
- Does the provider post a daily menu? Does it list whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat foods? Does it limit sweets and processed foods?
- Does the food suit the child’s age and appetite? How does the provider handle food allergies?
- Is food properly labeled and stored to protect against contamination?
Child Care Program Activities
- Is there a written daily program of age-appropriate activities designed to promote academic, social, and physical development?
- How much TV are the children allowed to watch?
- Does staff read to the children daily?
In Case of an Emergency
- Does the provider ask for written parental consent before giving medication to any child?
- Is medication properly labeled and stored?
- Does the provider keep children’s emergency medical information organized in a central location that is easily accessible?
- Does the provider keep a list of adults approved by the parent who have the authority to pick up the children?
- Does the provider give the parents of list of accidents or injuries that would warrant medical attention?
- Does the provider give the parents a copy of their emergency preparedness plan to include off-site evacuation place?
Any injury or accident that results in medical treatment for a child must be reported to DSS and the parents must be notified immediately. The following must be reported:
- Any suspected child abuse or neglect involving the owner, director, or any staff person
- Any legal or health issue that occurs which impacts the health and safety of his/her child.
- Any child or staff occurrences of communicable diseases that the Department of Health of Environmental Control (DHEC) requires to be report on its School Exclusion List.
- Any death occurring at the center.
- Any child who is missing or left unattended in a vehicle.
- Any major structural damages or man-made disasters that cause a facility to close.
- Any charges or convictions of crimes against the owner, director, or staff of a center.
- An occurrence requiring the services of a fire or police department, which affects the health and safety of children.
A report of child deaths and injuries is maintained by DSS. To view the report click here. To find out if a facility has had any cited incidents click here to review the facility review and complaint information and inspection reports.
Staff to Child Ratios
All types of child care providers are expected to meet these staff-to-child ratios. There may be different requirements for nap times or when children are engaged in swimming pool activities.
Birth to one year
One to two years
Two to three years
Three to four years
Four to five years
Five to six years
Six to twelve years