Here is some helpful information and guidance for parents about the types of child care and how to look for high-quality care.
For parents looking for and evaluating child care options, it’s important to understand that there are two types of child care facilities that are licensed and regulated by the state of Maryland: Child Care Centers and Family Child Care Homes.
Child care in Maryland is regulated by the Maryland State Department of Education, Division of Early Childhood, Office of Child Care. Unannounced inspections are conducted annually to ensure the facilities meet the legal requirement for regulated child care.
Here are some that both types of care providers must meet:
These are professionally staffed facilities that generally serve large groups of children. While centers vary greatly in size, each one must maintain designated teacher/child ratios and remain within the maximum child capacity established for it by the Office of Child Care.
Many centers provide care for infants to preschool-aged children. Licensed and regulated care also covers programs for school-age children in before- and after-school programs. Most centers provide care for a range of ages. In many centers, children are grouped by age, but some centers use mixed-age groups.
Nursery schools are educational programs for children ages 2 to 4. These programs are approved by the Maryland State Department of Education. Most are also licensed by Office of Child Care as child care programs.
These are operated by professional caregivers, but within private residences. They must be located in the primary caregiver’s home.
Legal requirements for Family Child Care Homes include:
For more details about the two types of licensed and regulated child care and the legal requirements they must fulfill, visit the Child Care 101 page provided by the Maryland Division of Early Childhood.
Check Child Care MD
Check Child Care provides the compliance record and inspection results for all licensed and regulated child care programs in Maryland. While parents should look for much more than compliance when evaluating quality, this search tool is an easy way to see how well a program has adhered to state regulations. Search Compliance Records for Regulated Child Care Programs
Head Start and Prekindergarten are early education options for families with low incomes.
Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) operates more than 30 Head Start programs, most of which are full-day. These Head Start programs serve 4-year-olds and a limited number of 3-year-olds. Head Start is federally funded and families must meet federal poverty income guidelines.
MCPS offers public Prekindergarten (PreK) at around 60 schools. Most of these PreK programs are half-day, but a few are full-day. PreK is for 4-year-olds, and it provides experiences to help children develop and maintain the skills, knowledge, and behaviors necessary to be successful in school. In addition, the Maryland State Department of Education has approved nine community-based full-day PreK programs in Montgomery County. To be eligible for PreK programs, families must meet specific low-income guidelines.
Click here for more details about Head Start and PreK programs, income eligibility, and how to apply.
Many families choose to use informal child care arrangements, including nannies, babysitters, au pairs, or family members.
It is important to keep in mind that there is no guarantee that informal care meets health and safety regulations, or that appropriate educational content and learning opportunities are available, because there is no agency regulating informal care providers.
Many of the factors parents should think about when assessing licensed and regulated child care programs also apply to informal caregivers. See the section titled "How to Look for Quality" further down this page to learn more about why quality matters and what high-quality child care look like.
Finding child care for a child with special needs or a disability can be especially challenging.
The Maryland Family Network operates the LOCATE: Child Care Special Needs Service.
For assistance, parents should call 800-999-0120 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information about this specialized referral service, including eligibility guidelines, is available on this MFN web page.
The following organizations also offer programs and resources for parents and caregivers of special needs children:
Easterseals DC MD VA provides Early Care and Education services for children with and without disabilities, six weeks to six years of age. It also offers a respite program that supports children with disabilities and special needs and their families.
The Arc of Montgomery County offers inclusive programs for children and youth ages six weeks to 21 years with and without disabilities and special health care needs, including full-time child care, preschool, before/after-school care and summer programs.
The Lourie Center for Children's Social & Emotional Wellness (part of Adventist HealthCare) helps improve the social and emotional health of young children and their families through prevention, early intervention, education, research and training. Its Therapeutic Nursery serves children whose behavioral or emotional problems may make it hard for them to learn in a typical preschool or daycare setting.
Here are two resources for parents who have concerns about their child's development but don't yet have a diagnosis:
For children from birth to age 34.5 months: Contact the Montgomery County Infants and Toddlers Program to request an evaluation. Call 240-777-3997 or complete the online referral at referral.mditp.org
For children age 3 to Kindergarten: Child Find provides free developmental screenings for children from three years of age until kindergarten. (Child Find is also the single point of entry for families moving into Montgomery County whose preschool-aged child has been previously identified with a disability).
This is a free referral service with detailed information on all regulated child care in Maryland. Trained referral specialists help parents identify care based on personal preferences including program type, location, and cost.
Referrals are provided for licensed Child Care Centers, licensed Family Child Care Homes, nursery schools, Head Start programs, and before/after school programs and summer programs.
LOCATE: Child Care is offered by the Maryland Family Network and funded by the Maryland State Department of Education.
Call 877-261-0060 to speak with a LOCATE counselor regarding child care needs.
Servicio especial en español
Llame a LOCATE: Child Care al 800-999-0120
If you are a parent who is looking for child care in Virginia, Washington, DC, or another state, you can find your local Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) agency using Child Care Aware's CCR&R search form.
Parents looking for child care typically have to think about four big factors: cost, location, hours of operation, and quality.
Quality is important because all early care is also early education. The research is clear: the years from birth to age 5 are critical to a child’s future success in school and in life.
As a starting point, parents should verify that any child care programs they are considering are licensed and regulated by the state of Maryland (see "Types of Child Care" above for more information on licensed Child Care Centers and Family Child Care Homes). Unlicensed child care can pose a serious threat to children's safety and well-being.
According to the Maryland Division of Early Childhood, here is what high-quality child care looks like:
Keep in mind that many things necessary to providing high-quality child care are difficult to assess during a quick visit, or may not be evident without asking questions.
According to this article by the co-directors of the Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative at Harvard University, parents should be sure to ask questions about “unseen things,” especially the working conditions and professional supports for early childhood teachers, because “it is the adults, after all, who create the conditions that support warm, responsive and stimulating learning experiences and environments that ensure all children can grow and thrive. If the adults aren’t supported and thriving, it’s unlikely the children will be.”
They suggest asking the following questions:
1. Professional supports and working conditions
2. Staff turnover and continuity of care
3. Classroom management strategies and approaches to children’s social and emotional development.
In addition to asking questions about these very important unseen things, parents should personally visit any child care program they are considering in order to observe the many things that can be seen, including: the indoor and outdoor environment, the types of activities provided, how teachers interact with children and parents, and matters of health and safety.
Here are some tips for making the most of a visit to a child care program:
The following rating and accreditation programs are also useful when assessing quality.
Maryland EXCELS: This program promotes quality by awarding ratings to Child Care Centers, Family Child Care Homes, School-Age Child Care Programs, and Public Prekindergarten (PreK) programs. These ratings are available to families as a way to help them make informed choices in the care of their children.
Please note that EXCELS is a voluntary program, and there are many child care programs in the state who do not participate, but who may still provide high-quality care.
Maryland Accreditation is administered by the Maryland State Department of Education, Division of Early Education. It is available to Licensed Child Care Centers and Public Prekindergarten (PreK) programs. Earning this accreditation demonstrates that a program has met high standards beyond those required for state licensing.
Maryland Child Care Credential Program: This program, which is administered by the Maryland State Department of Education, Division of Early Education, is a way to determine if early childhood educators are well qualified. This credential applies to individuals (registered Family Child Care Home providers and Child Care Center staff). Earning this credential demonstrates that an early childhood educator has met high standards beyond those required for state licensing.
National Accreditation for Family Child Care: Parents considering a licensed Family Child Care Home should ask specifically about NAFCC accreditation. This is the only national accreditation standard for Family Child Care Homes recognized by the Maryland State Department of Education.
NAEYC Accreditation: The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is a professional membership organization that promotes high-quality early learning for all children, birth to age 8. Their accreditation system sets professional standards for high quality programs for young children. Participation in the NAEYC accreditation process is voluntary, but it is another indicator of quality to ask about when evaluating a child care provider.
Every community in Maryland is served by one of 12 regional Child Care Resource Centers (CCRCs).
Together, these Centers make up the Maryland Child Care Resource Network (MCCRN), which provides leadership and services designed to improve the quality, availability, and affordability of child care in communities across the state.
This public-private partnership is administered by Maryland Family Network under a contract with the Maryland State Department of Education.
Here is contact information for the CCRC serving Montgomery County:
Department of Health and Human Services
Montgomery County Child Care Resource & Referral Center
1401 Rockville Pike, Suite 200
Rockville, Maryland 20852
Visit this page at the Maryland Family Network to find contact information for the Child Care Resource Centers serving other Maryland communities.
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