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San Diego Moms: How to Find a Good Child Care Provider


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If you’re active in those Facebook moms groups, you’ve probably read plenty of horror stories about child care providers in the area. Most recently, in a group I’m a member of, a mother shared that her child was at an in-home daycare where the daycare owner would often work in her bathrobe! Some experiences are scarier — with stories about abuse, inadequate conditions and more. My heart breaks when I read about those stories. I’ve been fortunate to have my children at a wonderful provider in San Marcos (shoutout to Center for Children and Families!), but I sympathize with other parents. 

I reached out to Alessandra Lezama, CEO of TOOTRiS, a San Diego-based company that vets child care providers then connects parents to them, who offered plenty of great tips on what to look for in providers, questions you should be asking and how to spot the red flags.

“Finding the right child care program is the most important thing a parent can do for their child,” Lezama said. “Take your time, compare and contrast, and then make the right decision.”

Your Child Care Providers Checklist

Here’s what Lezama said you should consider when looking for a provider:

  • Availability – Do they have any? What are their hours and days of operation? Are they on a fixed schedule or do they allow for drop-in coverage?
  • Type of provider – Are they a commercial child care program, or an in-home family child care program? 
  • Cost – Do they accept subsidies for those who qualify? Do they accept child care employee benefits programs? 
  • State licensing information and background – check for prior violations and what they are for. 
  • What kind of program or curriculum do they have? – Montessori? Play-Based? 
  • What are their COVID-19 practices? Do they suggest children/parents/teachers be vaccinated?
  • Do parents need to pack diapers and or meals, or does the provider offer them? If so, what are they?

Questions to Ask Directors or Owners

  • In today’s digital landscape, we are finding more and more parents are interested in using apps that allow child care providers to send text messages and pictures throughout the day. Does the child care provider you are considering have a communication app? 
  • What is the staff to child ratio?
    What is the late pickup policy? Some providers charge by the minute for late pickups.
  • How do they discipline children?
    Do you provide pickup and drop off for before or after care? (for older children)
  • Do you work with local school districts for bussing? (for older children)

Questions to Ask Teachers and Employees:

  • What’s your background? Where did your passion for child care come from?
  • Do you have a daily routine? What does it look like?
  • How often can I expect communication with you and how?
  • How do you discipline?
  • What is your teaching philosophy?
  • What do you do to get to the heart of a child and earn their trust? 
  • What makes your program special and unique, why would enrolling my child in your program be the best decision I could make?
  • Each child reaches milestones at a different pace. How do you measure developmental progress?

The Red Flags

First, Lezama said parents should consider getting referrals from other parents they know and trust. Parents should also engage their children by asking them about their school days. 

“Keep an eye on diaper rashes to make sure diaper changes are occurring on a frequent basis, and if you spot bruising or cuts, make sure the provider communicates with you how it happened and why,” Lezama said. “You shouldn’t have to ask.” 

At my children’s daycare/preschool, we receive a written report if the child is injured or injures another child (gotta love the toddler hitting). There have been times where my child had a serious fall and I received a call right away followed up with a report at pick-up time. 

Other red flags you may see are connected to the state licensing group. In California, the Department of Social Services is responsible for licensing and publicly shares any reports or citations a licensed provider receives. 

Lezama said it’s important to understand the difference in citations.

“When looking at a program’s state licensing information, there may be Type A, or Type B citations,” she said. “Type A are serious violations with immediate risk to health, which include ‘lack of supervision, access to dangerous chemicals, access to open bodies of water, etc,’ whereas Type B are usually more clerical and less serious. Examples of a Type B citation would include faulty medical record keeping, or lack of adequate staff training. Type B violations are usually easy to remedy.”

How TOOTRiS Can Help Your Child Care Search

TOOTRiS has helped many parents (and I personally love that it’s in San Diego) find legitimate child care providers. For starters, the TOOTRiS platform posts a link to each provider’s license directly from its TOOTRiS profile for parents to easily see citations and if they’ve corrected those problems since the initial report.

It’s also easy to search for reputable child care providers near you. Parents can type in their city and see all the licensed providers in their area, and how many openings each program currently has without needing to pick up a phone to call.  You can choose among 100 filters such as languages spoken, dietary needs, religious preference, etc. 

Finally, Lezama recommends beginning your search for a child care provider at least six months in advance. 

Final Words

As a mother of two and a former investigative journalist, I highly recommend that you thoroughly research each employee who works with your child at the business. I also recommend that you ask a lot of questions during pickup and to communicate any concerns with the provider at that moment. Finding a trusted child care provider can be difficult, but if you’re active in communicating, it can make a world of difference.

San Diego Moms is published every Saturday. Have a story idea? Email [email protected] and follow her on Instagram at @hoawritessd.



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