There are many resources on the internet that can help you understand some of the common elements of quality child care. When I'm asked what a parent should be looking for, I will always say that these are the most important elements:
1. low ratios of children to adults
2. stable provider(s)
3. trained and educated providers
4. a clean and safe environment with appropriate play opportunities for your child.
Of course, the catch is, all of this has to come in a package that you feel comfortable with . That's always the hardest thing to come by. And last but not least, it has to be a situation that can fit your schedule and budget. Hey, no wonder this isn't easy!
Child Care Aware is the national organization of Child Care Resource & Referral agencies. They offer great brochures and online information about child care licensing, quality indicators, and much more.
Babycenter.com is a site with information about just about everything relating to babies. In the child care sections, there are printable lists of questions to ask a provider, whether it be a center-based environment, family provider, or a nanny.
If you're in Oregon, like me, the Oregon Network of Resource & Referral agencies has it's own website, complete with an online search engine of providers. Also, there are straightforward descriptions of child care licensing in our state, so you can understand the differences. You can visit their website here.
The Oregon Child Care Division licenses registered and certified family child care, as well as centers. You can visit their website to see regulations for the different types of child care. They also added complaint history to their website recently, which allows parents to see if a provider has complaints, and gives contact information for each provider's certifier.