What Parents Need to Know About Choosing Child Care

Written by Theresa Rose on March 13, 2015

Choosing care for their children is one of the most important decisions parents will make, and it can be overwhelming. Understanding Iowa’s child care system and regulations can help parents make a child care decision that fits their family, says Janet Smith, a human sciences specialist in family life with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Whether a child care program is operating from a home or center, the operators should be knowledgeable about the state child care regulations. Parents and community members who understand the regulations as well will help support quality child care for Iowa’s youngest residents, Smith said.

“Neuroscience tells us the first years of a child’s life are when the brain develops the most rapidly, and when the quality of the child’s interactions with caregivers have lifelong impact on shaping who he or she becomes,” Smith said.

Children who have spent time in high quality child care environments have lasting benefits from the experience. Research indicates that children who receive a high quality early childhood education have better math, language and social skills as they enter school, and as they grow older require less special education and progress further in school. They also have fewer interactions with the justice system and have higher earnings as adults, Smith continued.

Different Types of Care in Iowa

The Iowa Department of Human Services monitors licensed and registered child care programs. They are required to meet health and safety standards, programming standards and training standards that include CPR and first aid. All employees of licensed centers and all household members of a family child care home are required to submit a state and national background check.

Licensed care may be found in private or nonprofit child care centers, church-based centers, afterschool or summer programs, or school-age programs. Registered family child care homes fall into four different categories, mainly depending upon the number of children receiving care.

“Different rules apply to licensed child care centers and registered child care homes,” Smith said. These regulations are available to anyone online at https://dhs.iowa.gov/licensure-and-registration.

Certain early childhood programs are exempt from licensing by the Iowa DHS, such as those operated by school districts under the Iowa Department of Education, Smith noted.

“Many parents might be surprised to discover that home child care centers that care for five or fewer children do not need to register their program with the state of Iowa. Even though these unregistered providers are legally operating, they are not monitored by any regulatory agency and are not required to meet any minimum health and safety standards, have CPR or first aid, or participate in professional development,” Smith explained.

How Parents and Community Members Can Support Quality Child Care

“The most important thing is to be aware and ask questions,” Smith said. “Licensed or registered child care providers will proudly display their certificate from the state.”

Smith emphasized that any program in Iowa caring for more than five children that does not register with the state is not abiding by the law. Not only is the program not being regulated, but there may be other consequences for operating illegally, such as liability or homeowner’s insurance not covering in cases of injury or death.

Smith offers these additional suggestions to those supporting quality standards for young children.

The state of Iowa has a voluntary Quality Rating System in place to support early childhood programs in improving quality. If a child care program chooses to participate in QRS, this may indicate the program is interested in providing good care for children. If the program has earned a high rating, this usually indicates that the program is providing higher quality child care. Learn more about QRS, including a list of programs participating, at http://dhs.iowa.gov/iqrs.

Child Care Resource & Referral is a program to support quality child care throughout Iowa. CCR&R is available to assist families in selecting child care providers who best meet the needs of the child and the family. More information can be found at http://www.iowaccrr.org/.

What Is Best for Children

“Ultimately, parents must decide what type of early learning program is best for their child and family,” Smith said. “Visit a variety of programs, ask questions, observe activities and relationships.”

For further research-based information on early care and education, visit the Let’s Talk…Child Care website at http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/childcare/.