How to find a quality family-care center

Months before she gave birth to her son Jaxen, Elizabeth Anderson started interviewing childcare providers.

After talking with several providers, the Reynoldsburg hair stylist settled on the Columbus home of Kimberly Doughty for Jaxen, now 13 months old.

"I just loved that he would get more personal contact," she said, and that he would interact with older children.

How to Visit and Assess an At-Home Provider
Once parents have identified qualified providers, they should schedule a visit, Sheridan said. These are important factors to assess:

Schedule your visit while children are there, suggested Doughty, whose home is NAFCC accredited: "See how she handles herself with the kids. You can tell a lot by body language," Doughty said. Ask to see where the child would eat, sleep and play. Look at the toys, making sure they are developmentally appropriate and there's enough of them: "If there are not enough toys, it could lead to discipline problems," Sheridan said. Ask the provider about how the child's day will be scheduled: "Children in general like order in their lives," Sheridan said. "If they know what to expect," they tend to do better. Ask the provider about a curriculum for the children. Providers should work with children to help them meet developmental milestones: "Standards have changed," Doughty said, adding that homecare providers need to do more than sit kids in front of the television. Ask how the provider communicates with parents about their child's day. Ask about the provider's visitation policy. Experts recommend all care providers have an open-door policy that allows you to visit your child any time. Ask how many children a home provider is caring for. In Ohio, home providers can only watch six children at a time, but no more than three of the children can be younger than 2 years old. What Makes for a Qualified Provider
When choosing a homecare setting, parents need to be particularly diligent because the state only licenses homecare settings if the provider accepts more than six children - meaning most are exempt from state licensing requirements, said Becky Sheridan of Action for Children, a free childcare resource and referral agency.

But at-home or homecare providers, also called "family-care centers," may have gone through other certification processes. Counties, for example, must certify providers who receive public funds as payment. This certification process includes background checks, home and fire inspections, and a statement from a physician or nurse verifying the applicant is able to provide child care. Certified providers also receive ongoing training.

Family-care centers that do not receive public funds aren't required to be certified. They can, however, choose to register with Action for Children, which means they have met minimum health and safety standards, and the providers have undergone background checks.

Providers also can be accredited through the nonprofit National Association for Family Child Care, which evaluates homecare centers.

Get It in Writing
These are important details you need to see proof of when visiting and evaluating an at-home provider:
The written agreement provided to parents Names of references and their contact information Diplomas or certificates from accredited schools for degrees and continuing-education classes. Insurance policies that covers the provider's business Background check results for the provider and any members of the provider's family who will come in contact with your child. A back-up plan if the provider is unable to watch the children Detailed emergency plans In homes licensed by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, there must be an additional caregiver if there are more than six children or more than three children under the age of 2.

If the provider has children of her or his own under age 6, they must be counted in the totals. "Parents really need to count heads when they go into a home," Sheridan said.

And if you observe a provider violating these standards, report him or her to the state by calling 866-635-3748.