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Finding Child Care

Find Child Care

Choosing child care is one of the most important decisions families make. The Child Care Aware of Washington Family Center can help. Call them to find high-quality child care that best meets your family's needs. These are free child care referrals. Call 800-446-1114, Monday through Friday from 8am - 5pm for your detailed report. Parents may also access their own search online, 24-hours a day by clicking here.

Six steps for finding quality child care

1. Make a list of considerations, taking time to prioritize needs and wishes

  • Do you want child care that is close to home, close to work or both?
  • What time do you need child care? Do you need part-time or full-time?
  • How much can you afford to pay for child care?
  • Does your child have special needs that need to be considered?
  • Do you want a child care with lots of outdoor play activities?
  • Do you want a child care that has a preschool curriculum?

2. Consider child care options

Now that you have identified some your family’s child care needs, you can consider what types of child care programs may be the best fit. The costs, advantages and disadvantages vary, so make a list or chart that keeps track of pros, cons, costs, and other notes as you begin to consider all of the options. Your options include:

  • Licensed child care – Minimum licensing requirements are established by the Department of Child, Youth and Families (DCYF). Teachers must meet educational requirements. Authorized to accept Working Connections. Review licensing requirements, find out if a provider is licensed, or get complaint history at DCYF's Child Care Check website: or call 866-482-4325.
  • Head Start and Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) – Income level and a child’s age determine eligibility for preschool. Early Head Start is also available for low-income children from ages 0-3, and for pregnant women. For Thurston, Mason, and Grays Harbor residents, find out if you are eligible or to apply at Sound to Harbor Head Start/ECEAP at 360-464-6800. Other areas, please visit the Washington State Association of Head Start & ECEAP directory.
  • Private preschools – Provide an educational program four or less hours per day for children ages 3-5. Not required to be licensed. Typically part-time and require private pay.
  • Parent cooperative preschool programs – Typically part-time for children ages 3-5 and provided through community colleges. Not required to be licensed. Requires parents to volunteer time and participate in parent education. Not authorized to accept Working Connections.
  • Family, friend or neighbors – Not required to get licensed. May be more flexible, less expensive, and less stable. Working Connections will pay a relative caregiver when they register and pass a criminal history check.
  • Nanny’s – Not required to get licensed. Not authorized to accept Working Connections.

3. Contact Child Care Aware of Washington Family Center referral specialists

Child Care Referral Specialists at the Child Care Aware of Washington Family Call Center can refer you to child care centers, family child care homes, preschools or school age programs. They can give you a list of providers that meet the needs you have outlined in step one. You can either call them at 800-446-1114 or start your online search by clicking here.

4. Research child care providers

Once you have a list of potential providers, it is time to begin researching those options. When looking for child care, be aware of the following indicators: group size, health and safety, provider education and turnover rate, accreditation, ratios, and family involvement. It is best to start with an initial phone call screening, and follow up with a couple visits. Consider visiting once by yourself, to observe the setting and activities your child will be in, and then make another drop-in visit with your child. Once you have visited specific child care providers, you should check the licensing history and complaint file for the provider or center at the DCYF or call 1-866-482-4325. 

5. Initiate your new child care plan

Once you have selected a child care arrangement, prepare yourself and your child to begin child care. During the first few weeks, discuss the transition with your child and the caregiver. Arrange several short visits, if possible, before you leave your child all day. Experienced caregivers know how to help both children and parents through the transition of good-byes, especially the first few times.

6. Stay Involved

Remember, it is up to you to monitor the child care program you have chosen and to talk with your child’s caregivers about how your child is getting along. Caregivers need your support and appreciation for their good work and children need parents to constantly evaluate the child care arrangement. Your child or family’s needs may change over time.

Ways to stay involved and keep a good relationship with your provider:

  • Stay as close as you can to your arrival times. Call and make necessary arrangements if you are going to be late. It’s courteous to your provider and makes your child feel more secure.
  • Get to know other parents of children who are cared for by your provider. Talk to them about their experience.
  • Ask questions if something is happening that you don’t understand.
  • Drop in frequently and participate in daily activities.
  • Ask your child what he does during the day. Find out how he interacts with the caregiver.
  • Spend a few minutes each day talking with caregiver about your child.
  • Ask your provider what training and education she has completed. Providers take pride in their knowledge about child development, and they can be a resource for you in helping your child succeed.

If you suspect a child has been neglected or abused, call 1.866.ENDHARM (1.866.363.4276). This is Washington’s toll-free, 24/7 hotline.

Licensing Requirements

Some basic requirements are but not limited to:

  • Criminal Background check
  • First Aid/CPR/HIV/AIDS/Blood Borne Pathogens training
  • 30 hours of basic child care training (Lead Staff)
  • An inspection for health and safety for facility
  • Current Tb (Tuberculosis) test

Staff and Ratios

Please visit for more information.


  • File a complaint: If you have any concerns about a provider please call CPS (Child Protective Services) at 1-800-562-5624.
  • Child Care Check provides information on complaints on a provider. Access this information at 866-482-4325 or their website at
  • We do not guarantee the quality of the providers in our database.  We urge you to interview and check references before leaving your child in care.