When you return to work after having a baby, you want to know that your child is in warm, caring hands. Whether you choose a home-based care provider or a day care center, you should take steps to make sure the environment is healthy and safe. 

Use this checklist to evaluate potential day care providers for your child. 

State licensing 

Washington requires a license for certain day care providers, including: 

  • Family-based programs, where the provider can care for no more than 12 children 
  • Early learning centers, which can provide care for children from birth to 12 months old for fewer than 24 hours at a time 

The licensing process ensures that centers meet certain minimum requirements for safe child care. For this reason, you should avoid unlicensed child care providers. In addition, federal law mandates background checks for all day care providers. 

Ratio requirements 

The day care provider must adhere to a maximum number of children depending on the trained adults available. For infant care, one trained adult should have responsibility for no more than four infants. One trained adult can care for up to six toddlers ages 1 to 3. The ratio for preschoolers is 10 children for every trained adult, and for school-age children the maximum increases to 12 per trained adult. 

Safe sleep policies 

The day care center should follow safe sleep recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics. A trained adult should supervise the infants in care at all times, even when sleeping. The care provider should place babies on their backs to sleep, in cribs free of loose blankets, pillows and stuffed animals. 

Visiting hours 

Although you can schedule a formal visit with the day care centers on your short list, you should also stop by unannounced so you can see how the center runs when they have not prepared for guests. You should notice attentive staff, clean facilities and an organized routine. 

When a child experiences a serious injury at school or day care, the provider may be responsible for medical bills and other costs. In Washington, you must file a personal injury lawsuit within three years of the incident.