What to Expect When You’re Looking for Child Care

September 19, 2023

Finding child care is one of those things that doesn't sound challenging until you start your search. How can you ensure your area's providers are fully qualified? Why is it often difficult and time-consuming to secure an infant spot? Why do some providers respond to inquiries on the same day, while others take up to a week? Below, we’ll dive into the top concerns that may come up during your child care search. We’ll take a realistic, detailed look at timeframes and required actions so there aren’t so many surprises when you set out to enroll a child of your own.

The concerns we cover are:

  1. How long will it take to find a child care spot?
  2. I don’t know how many providers I should talk to
  3. It can be difficult to find enough qualified options for my needs
  4. My inquiries sometimes go unanswered for several days or weeks
  5. I’m not sure what I should be looking for in a child care provider and program
  6. It can be difficult to find all of the information I need from my options online
  7. I don’t know anyone else who is going through the child care search
  8. The applications take a significant amount of time to fill out, especially when I’m working on several at a time
  9. It can be challenging to make my final choice

Concern: “How long will it take to find a child care spot?”

More than 75% of families have a hard time finding appropriate and available care for their children. This is especially relatable if you are looking for infant or young toddler care in an area that is lacking providers.

Solution: Start your search early and use these tips when reaching out to programs.

Begin looking for child care as soon as you know you will need it. Some parents begin their search as soon as they know their child’s due date and their expected end of maternity/paternity leave. Others may not have that ability but still begin searching as soon as the need becomes apparent.

We recommend starting your search at least 3 to 6 months before you need care if your child is under 2 years old, and 1 to 4 months before you need care if your child is over 2 years old. In highly competitive areas, you’ll need to start even sooner. This map shows child care availability and deserts across the country. 

If you find that most providers around you are full or haven’t posted future enrollments yet, don’t be afraid to contact them and ask about being put on a waitlist. Waitlists are one of the easiest ways to secure your spot with a well-loved provider. By calling to ask about waitlists, you may even find that a provider hasn’t recently updated their online availability, and they have an unadvertised opening coming soon.

To get notified immediately when a school you are interested in has a new opening, sign up to Wonderschool and be sure to favorite your preferred providers. This way you will get an email as soon as the provider updates their availability with new openings. 

Remember that peak enrollment seasons happen between June and September and spike again during the month of January. This could mean that spots will be booked up quickly. 

Concern: “I don’t know how many providers I should talk to.”

Should I only talk to my first choice? How many providers do I need to have as backup options if my preferred provider doesn’t work out?

Solution: Start by engaging with 3 to 4 providers.

You may need to speak with more providers to truly find the right fit. If your first few finds don’t have availability, fit your budget, or feel like good fits after your in-person visits, you will need to start building your favorite list again. Use this time to talk to providers and take tours. With Wonderschool, you can easily message providers, book tours and keep your favorites all in one place throughout your entire child care search journey. 

Concern: “It can be difficult to find enough qualified options for my needs.”

Finding child care providers can be a difficult feat on its own. When you add in specific qualifications, the process gets even more challenging. 

Solution: Don’t make a decision solely based on a provider’s website.

Keep in mind that not all child care providers will have updated information available online. You may need to call them to ask questions, or schedule a tour, to fully understand their program and see if they can meet your needs. 

Concern: “My inquiries sometimes go unanswered for several days or weeks.”

Child care providers are busy. Many in-home child care providers run their program on their own and spend up to 12 hours per day taking care of children. They may not always have time each day to answer inquiries. 

Solution: Keep in mind that availability and response time vary by provider.

For starters, try to keep an open mind when you don’t hear back immediately from a provider. This may just mean that their efforts are focused on their students and communicating with current parents. 

Focus on sending out your first communication long before you need a response. Consider setting a time frame for providers to get back to you, such as 5 days. Spend this time contacting all possible providers and taking notes of availability and interest. If there are providers who have not responded at the end of the contact period, reach out again. With Wonderschool, you can let us know if a provider on our site isn't responding and we'll work to get you connected.

Concern: “I’m not sure what I should be looking for in a child care provider and program.”

What to look for is often the most overwhelming part of the child care search. There are so many different options out there today, from the types to the educational philosophies.

Solution: Consider schedules, finances, educational philosophies, and your comfort level.

We recommend setting your search priorities in the following order:

  • Schedule — the provider needs to be open and available when you need care for your child.
  • Finances — The cost of care needs to fit into your budget. If you’ll be using subsidized programs, the provider needs to be willing to accept government support.
  • Educational philosophies — The type of education should fit your child and your parenting preferences. Some common focuses include time spent in nature, independent learning, play-based learning, STEM, and language immersion. Picture what your child is interested in, and the skills you’d like them to work on (if any) before kindergarten. Then, choose a program that you know they will be able to grow in, as well as find joy in. 
  • Talk to the provider and take a tour — The best way to know is to talk with and tour a program - many parents say that once they toured a program, they knew what the best option was. The next section below provides more advice and resources on taking tours. 

Above all else comes your comfort level. If a provider checks all of the boxes but your gut tells you to go somewhere else, go somewhere else. Your child’s safety is the most critical factor in child care, making your comfort level as a parent the number one concern. You can also read about a parent’s experience in finding child care for the first time and what she looked for.

Concern: “It can be difficult to find all of the information I need from my options online.”

Not all child care providers have robust websites. Some simply have their name, location, and contact information available online or occasionally some may be needing an availability update. While this can make your search feel more difficult, it's not necessarily a red flag for the provider.

Solution: Tour as many places as possible.

Websites are helpful, but as mentioned above, tours are the tools that will give you the most information on a child care provider and program. If you find a local provider without much information online, contact them to ask for more information and let them know what you are looking for. Then, if they feel like a potential fit, schedule a visit to see their program in-person. Try making a list of child care providers by area, so you can visit several spots in one day without driving all over town.

Not sure what to ask or look for on your visit? We’ve put together a guide to help you get the most out of child care tours.

Concern: “I don’t know anyone else who is going through the child care search.”

Many aspects of parenting can feel lonely, including the child care search. If you don't have a community of moms and dads around you who have done this before, it can make your choice feel even more difficult.

Solution: Turn to the advice of online reviews and parenting communities.

Thankfully, there is plenty of advice from real parents online. Look at testimonials on child care provider websites, or even parent reviews on Reddit or their Google business page if applicable. States and Counties often have information on available child care providers, as well as childcare.gov. If you have specific questions that aren't being answered from the information that is already available online, turn to a virtual parenting community. 

Wonderschool’s Parenthoods app is a localized online parenting community that allows you to ask questions to parents near or far, anonymously or not. It is well-moderated to ensure a safe experience and maintain user security. Simply create an account and ask any parenting questions that come up, from child care provider reviews to general parenting struggles. There is also a topic specifically for child care.

Parenthoods can be downloaded on Apple or view the online community, free of charge.

Concern: “The applications take a significant amount of time to fill out, especially when I’m working on several at a time.”

Child care applications are typically fairly detailed, but for important reasons. The applications help to make sure that the provider has all the essential information to ensure a good fit for your child, as well as give them the information they need to keep your child safe. Some topics that are almost always covered in child care applications include: 

  • Home address
  • Allergies 
  • Vaccines
  • Dietary restrictions 
  • Special needs
  • Medical conditions
  • Medicine taken
  • Doctor’s name and phone number
  • Family and emergency contact information, including email and phone number

Most applications will also ask for documentation of some of the above information, such as health and vaccination records.

Solution: Be prepared with a list of all required information to copy from.

Save time for yourself by keeping a master list of this information to copy and paste from. That way, you won’t need to log into your medical account for vaccine dates, or look up the phone numbers of your emergency contacts, separate times for each application.

Concern: “It can be challenging to make my final choice.”

Sometimes the final decision is easy, and other times it can be difficult. Here are our tips to make that final decision.

Solution: Write lists of pros and cons to help you decide.

Sometimes, the old-fashioned trick of a pros and cons list can be the most helpful tool in helping you choose a care provider for your child. The process may help you spot red flags that you hadn’t noticed initially, or it may help you realize the pieces of child care that are most important to you.

And even though these methods can help you make your choice, it’s still important to “trust your gut.” Parent intuition can tell you a lot about a child care provider. It’s important to go with the option you feel most comfortable with.

Find the right child care for your needs

All in all, it’s important to remember that although finding child care can feel difficult, it’s not impossible. Remember to start early and tour as many locations as possible. Make your final decision based on what feels like the best fit for both your family and your child. We’re confident that these tips will help you find your perfect fit, no matter how hard it feels when you first begin.

And don't forget that once you are enrolled, we have tips to help you in the next phase. This includes helping your child transition to care with a plan.

You got this!

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