How to find high-quality Child care

High-quality care is important because the first five years are a critical time in every child’s development.

Here is some helpful information and guidance for parents about the types of child care and how to look for high-quality care.

Types of Child 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:

  • Posting license or registration so parents can see it easily.
  • Receiving approval of the Office of Child Care, the fire department and local agencies.
  • Providing care in approved areas of the facility only.
  • Offering a program of both indoor and outdoor activities that are appropriate to the children’s ages, needs and capabilities.
  • Activities and how children’s behavior is managed must meet state-approved guidelines and be age appropriate. No corporal punishment is allowed.

More about Child Care Centers

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. 

More about Family Child Care Homes

These are operated by professional caregivers, but within private residences. Usually, they are located in the primary caregiver’s home.  

Legal requirements for Family Child Care Homes include:


  • There cannot be more than eight children present for care in the home at one time (or up to 12 children in a Large Family Child Care Home).
  • No more than two of those children – including the caregiver’s children – may be under 2 years old unless there are additional staff members present.
  • There may never be – under any circumstances – more than four children under the age of 2, regardless of how many staff members are present.

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 Public Prekindergarten

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.

What About Informal Care?

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.

Special Needs and Disabilities

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 specialneeds@marylandfamilynetwork.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).

LOCATE: Child Care

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
español@marylandfamilynetwork.org

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.

How to Look for Quality

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:

  • The child care providers are responsive to the needs of each child.
  • There are open, supportive and engaging experiences for children.
  • Interactions between providers and children are warm and positive.
  • Learning opportunities are developmentally appropriate, interactive and plentiful.
  • Health, safety and welfare are absolute priorities.


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

  • How are teachers supported professionally?
  • What kinds of opportunities do they have to work together?
  • Is time set aside for this important work? (rather than expecting teachers to collaborate during their breaks or children’s rest time)

2. Staff turnover and continuity of care

  • How often and why do teachers leave the program?
  • What are the turnover rates over the past couple of years?
  • What supports are in place to insure that children experience consistency even when teachers are sick or unable to come to work?
  • What are the program’s strategies for keeping high-quality teachers?

3. Classroom management strategies and approaches to children’s social and emotional development.

  • What strategies do teachers use to respond to challenging behaviors?
  • What strategies do teachers use to help children build their social-emotional skills?
  • What supports are available to teachers to foster their skills in classroom and behavior management?
  • Is the provider keeping track of the ways that challenging behaviors are managed and addressed to be sure they are positive and equitable, especially across gender lines?

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:

  • Visit alone first, without children. This makes it easier to stay focused and pay attention to all areas of the program.
  • Bring notes and take notes. There is a lot to take in during a visit. The amount of information can be overwhelming. Come to each visit with a "wish list" and questions.
  • Ask about the program's philosophy and beliefs about child development. Do they believe children learn by doing? Do they nurture each child's social and emotional growth? Do the teachers plan hands-on learning activities that help advance cognitive skills?

Quick Guide: How to Find High-Quality Child Care


Click here to download a one-page flyer with key information on how to find high-quality child care.

More Quality indicators

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.

Parents can search child care programs using the Maryland EXCELS mobile app, or the website tool.
Google App  
Apple iTunes Store 
Website Tool

Maryland Accreditation: This state 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 Maryland Accreditation demonstrates that a program has met high standards beyond those required for state licensing. Participation in Maryland Accreditation is voluntary, but it is another indicator of quality to ask about when evaluating a Licensed Child Care Center or pre-K program.

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.

Visit the NAEYC Accredited Program Search.

NAEYC is also a helpful source for more guidance on how to look for high-quality child care programs for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Visit this page to learn more.

Maryland Child Care Resource Network

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
240-777-3110
Website

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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