All parents want to support their child’s health, happiness and development. Choosing quality child care is an excellent way to do this! A quality child care program promotes a safe, fun environment where children can PLAY, LEARN and LAUGH!
Research tells us that 90% of brain development occurs in the first five years of life, and what children experience in these early years (see, hear, smell, taste and feel) shapes their brains. High quality child care programs feature enriched experiences that are linked to greater achievement and success in school and in life.
Benefits of Quality Child Care:
Skillful adults provide warm, responsive relationships that foster confidence as they respond to children’s needs consistently. Adults engage in culturally and linguistically appropriate conversations with the children, and are respectful and supportive of each child and their family.
Knowledgeable adults structure the environment to provide maximum opportunities for children to learn. Teachers who are better prepared are more likely to engage in positive interactions, plan developmentally appropriate activities, and use feedback to develop strong relationships.
The curriculum is age appropriate, supported by a variety of toys and materials, and promotes learning and development in all areas. There is a written plan that outlines the educational goals, activities, materials, assessment, and daily schedule.
A quality child care program puts health and safety first. The environment is organized, clean and safe (inside and out), toys and equipment are monitored and cleaned daily, and safe health practices, such as hand washing, are consistently followed. A high quality program will also promote nutrition and exercise to support healthy development.
The number of children a caregiver is responsible for can be described as a ratio. A 3:1 ratio means there are 3 children per caregiver. Group size refers to the total number of children per class, program or home. Typically the fewer the children in relation to caregivers, the greater the supervision.
Choosing quality child care is one of the most important decisions you will ever make as a parent.
Choosing quality child care is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make as a parent. Licensing is the first step in quality care. Quality child care impacts how children learn, think, develop and behave; promotes social and emotional skills; promotes self-esteem and confidence; encourages curiosity and love of learning; prepares children for school; strengthens math and reading skills; and increases probability of attending college.
When you select a licensed care provider in Virginia, you are selecting a qualified professional in the field of early education with a commitment to providing a safe and healthy environment for children by demonstrating compliance with regulations.
Licensed child day care programs can be offered in a child day center or in a family day home. They have an initial inspection and two unannounced inspections per year. Additional inspections are conducted as a result of violations and/or complaints. They have requirements for background checks, education, training/orientation, and health and safety standards.
Unlicensed and unregistered child day care programs do not have any of the following requirements or safeguards to protect vulnerable children: background checks, training/orientation, or health and safety requirements; and only minimal Code of Virginia requirements apply.
The Virginia Department of Education inspects licensed programs prior to operation, twice per year for unannounced inspections, as needed for program development, and in response to complaints.
Regulated programs that are unlicensed are inspected accordingly:
Religious Exempt child day centers are inspected by VDOE when there is a report of a complaint and/or allegation.
Voluntarily Registered homes are inspected by VDOE prior to issuance of an initial certificate and prior to issuing a renewal inspection. Registered homes are inspected when there is a report of a complaint and/or allegation. Annual monitoring inspections are conducted on a random sampling of homes by contract agency staff and/or Virginia Department of Education staff.
Family Day System is operated by Infant/Toddler Family Day Care and they are inspected by VDOE. Individual family day homes approved under the umbrella of the system are directly inspected by the family day system on a quarterly basis to ensure compliance with the system's policies and procedures. At least two visits are required to be unannounced.
Inspection reports are available for licensed and religious exempt child day centers, licensed and voluntarily registered family day homes, and certified preschools. Click here.
To view inspection reports enter the necessary information of the facility or home and activate the search, the programs information will be displayed. In addition to the program’s contact information, the assigned inspector and license information is displayed.
Inspection reports are posted with the most recent inspection displayed first. Details of the inspection reports highlights the areas reviewed, technical assistance provided during the inspection, and the inspector’s comments. Specific information on violations are available and include specific standard numbers, description of the violation, and the center’s response and/or corrective action if provided.
Parents who would like to file a complaint regarding a violation of a health and safety standard and/or citizens who would like to report an allegation of an illegally operating facility may do so by completing the Office of Child Care Licensing - Online Complaint form or by calling (800) 543-7545.
A child day provider may have a business license issued by a locality, but a business license is not the same as a license issued by the Virginia Department of Education.
Child day centers are child day programs offered to (i) two or more children under the age of 13 years in a facility that is not the residence of the provider or of any of the children in care or (ii) 13 or more children at any location.
Child day centers must be either licensed or exempt from licensure.
A center may be operating illegally if:
Ask the center to show you their license or letter of exemption letter (issued by VDSS prior to July 1, 2021 or issued by VDOE on or after July 1, 2021).
Licensed family day homes may provide care for five to twelve children (exclusive of the provider's own children and any children who reside in the home) when at least one child receives care for compensation. The care may be offered in the home of the provider or in the home of any of the children in care.
A family day home may be operating illegally if:
Ask the family day home provider to show you their license (issued by VDSS prior to July 1, 2021 or issued by VDOE on or after July 1, 2021).
Voluntarily Registered family day homes are not required to be licensed, but may choose to be registered. These homes have fewer than five children in care, not including the provider's own children and any children who reside in the home. Voluntary registration is not available in areas where local ordinances regulate unlicensed providers (Arlington, Fairfax, and Alexandria).
A voluntarily registered family day home may be operating illegally if:
Ask the family day home provider to show you their voluntary registration certificate (issued by VDSS prior to July 1, 2021 or issued by VDOE on or after July 1, 2021).
Certified preschools operated by private schools that are accredited by an accrediting organization recognized by the State Board of Education are allowed by Section 22.1-289.032 of the Code of Virginia to be exempt from licensure.
A certified preschool may be operating illegally if:
Ask the preschool to show you their certificate (issued by VDSS prior to July 1, 2021 or issued by VDOE on or after July 1, 2021).
High quality early childhood care and education can have the greatest effect on the lives of children and their families. Brain research has shown the importance of cognitive and social development in the early years of life as well as how it connects to future academic success. Did you know that kids in quality early childhood care and education programs have a higher high school completion rate? High quality experiences for children from birth to five should include enriching activities in developmentally appropriate environments, while also providing families with necessary resources and support. Some early care and education program options include Early Head Start, Head Start, Virginia Preschool Initiative, child day centers, and family day homes.
A child day care program in Virginia refers to a regularly operating service arrangement for children where, during the absence of a parent or guardian, a person or organization has agreed to assume responsibility for the supervision, protection and well-being of a child under the age of 13 for less than a 24-hour period.
There are two types of child day programs in Virginia: child day centers (center-based) and family day homes (family-based).
Categories of care include:
Although, choosing a licensed provider is strongly encouraged, not all programs require licensure. If you are unsure about the type of care you are receiving, ask your provider if they are licensed by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). Licensed programs are required to display their license certificate. Look for this license certificate to be visibly displayed near the entrance.
Educating yourself on available care options, and knowing what to look for when selecting a program, are essential to your child’s well-being. Search for child day care.
Licensed - When you select a licensed care provider in Virginia, you are selecting a qualified professional in the field of early education with a commitment to providing a safe and healthy environment for children by demonstrating compliance with regulations. Licensed child day care programs can be offered in a child day center or in a family day home.
Licensed child care programs have an initial inspection and two unannounced inspections per year. Additional inspections are made as a result of violations, allegations and/or complaints. Requirements include background checks, education, training/orientation, and health and safety standards. The number of children allowed in licensed care varies per center or family day home - based on determining factors such as the total square footage in centers and adequate space in homes. The maximum capacity can be identified on the provider’s posted license certificate. Click the program you are interested in for further information.
Unlicensed (but regulated) child care programs vary in their requirements. These programs are not licensed by VDOE, but do receive oversight in certain areas. For example:
Religiously exempt child care centers and certified pre-school programs are not inspected by VDOE unless there is a complaint. Click the program you are interested in for further information.
Unlicensed but Regulated
|Religiously Exempt Child Day Centers Certified Preschools||Voluntary Registered Family Day System|
Approved child day care programs are regulated by an entity other than VDSS. These programs include certain northern Virginia localities - Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax who have the authority to approve by local ordinance certain family day homes and child day centers.
Approved by Local Ordinance
Unlicensed and unregistered family day homes typically known as your family, friend or neighbor provide care in their home or the home of the child. They must follow the Code of Virginia requirements in §§ 22.1-289.041, which prohibit the caregiver from being a sex offender or child abuser, and 22.1-289.016, which requires the caregiver to provide in writing a notice to the parent stating that their child care program is not regulated by the Department and to refer parents to the Department’s website for information explaining the various types of child care options.
If you suspect that a child day care program is operating illegally, you can file an Online Complaint form or call (800) 543-7545.
The “Search for Child Care” webtool provides facility information and inspection reports for licensed and religiously exempt child care centers, licensed and voluntarily registered family day homes and certified pre-schools.
Information provided includes:
If you would like personal assistance in finding child care, contact Child Care Aware of Virginia at 866-543-7852.
The Child Care Subsidy Program assists families in paying child care costs for children under age 13 who are not eligible to attend public school during the part of the day when public education is available, or children with special needs under age 18 who reside with the applicant. If you are eligible and are approved for services, the Subsidy Program can pay a portion of your child care costs directly to the child care provider.
To be eligible for the Child Care Subsidy Program, you must:
Families of a child experiencing homelessness that cannot provide the required documentation needed to determine eligibility at the time of application may be conditionally approved for services for a period not to exceed 90 days.
Two ways to apply for the Child Care Subsidy Program
Your application will be reviewed within 30 days. During that time, you may be required to participate in an interview and provide documentation of basic eligibility requirements.
If you are eligible, and approved for services, your local department will authorize child care with a participating child care provider of your choice, and a portion of your child care costs will be paid directly to your provider.
Parents have different provider options they may choose to best fit the needs of their family. All parents want to support their child’s health, happiness and development. High quality child care programs feature enriched experiences that are linked to greater achievement and success in school and in life.
Click on the image below for a quick description of the benefits of providing high quality developmental care in a child's first 5 years.
The Search for Child Care web tool provides facility information and inspection reports for licensed and religiously exempt child care centers, licensed and voluntarily registered family day homes and certified pre-schools.
If you would like personal assistance in finding child care, contact Child Care Aware of Virginia at 866-543-7852.
From birth to age 5 is an incredibly exciting time of growth and development. It is during these early years when children develop the foundations for social, emotional, physical, language and cognitive growth. During these years, you may also have many questions about your child’s development.
Children develop in similar patterns at similar times, and typically go through a sequence of accomplishments (crawl, stand, walk, run.) However, each child is unique and will therefore learn, grow and reach milestones according to their own timeline. Knowing when to be concerned and when not to be is important for parents and family members. Your child’s pediatrician is your partner in determining whether or not your child is developing typically. The Center for Disease Control has a wealth of information about child development and developmental milestones. To learn more, or to see how your child is progressing, click here.
The ELDS are a reference to help caregivers and educators understand what most children are able to know and to do, across different areas of development, by a given age.The document describes development across five overlapping age bands.
The overlap conveys the reality that children develop at different rates. Individual skills will appear, across children, at different times. Those differences are often consistent with “expected” or “typical” development. The ELDS are organized into 5 Areas of Development:
Approaches to Play and Learning
Communication, Language, and Literacy Development
All of these areas of development are interrelated, and growth in one area often influences or depends on development in other areas. No area is more important than another. To learn more about Virginia’s Milestones, click here.
This resource contains a free library of photos and videos of developmental milestones.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 6 children aged 3-17 has a developmental disability, but many of these children are not identified until they are school-aged. Early identification and intervention are crucial to help each child build new skills and reduce the need for costly interventions in the future. CDC’s Learn the Signs. Act Early. program provides early childhood educators, clinicians, and families with resources, materials and tools to improve early identification of children with autism and other developmental disabilities.
If you have concerns about your baby, and would like to request a developmental screening, you can contact the Infant & Toddler Connection of Virginia at 1-800-234-1448.
Early intervention services are services provided through the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) that are designed to meet the developmental needs of each child and their family, and provided in natural environments for the child (such as the home or child care setting.) Services are offered through two distinct programs: Part B (preschool children ages 3-5) and Part C (infants and toddlers ages 0-2). To learn more about Early Intervention in Virginia, click here.
From birth through age 2 a child is eligible to receive services if they:
Early intervention services are provided by the Infant & Toddler Connection of Virginia. To learn more, determine if your child is eligible, or find your local program, click here.
Preschoolers may be eligible to receive early intervention services through the Early Childhood Special Education program of the Virginia Department of Education if they have one or more of 14 disability categories such as, but not limited to:
Early intervention services for preschool aged children are provided by local school districts. To learn more about early intervention for preschool children, determine if your child is eligible, or find more information on the 14 disability categories, click here.
The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) is a federal law that ensures children with disabilities receive services such as early intervention, special education, and related programs. Under this law, parents have specific special education rights, which are detailed in Virginia’s Procedural Safeguards Notice. To learn more, click here.
The PEATC offers services and support for families as well as easy-to-understand, research-based information and training.
Research indicates that high-quality early learning is a critical first step to creating equity in access to early education and ensuring that all children begin kindergarten with an equal opportunity to learn. Suspensions and expulsions of young children deprive them of enriching learning experiences and have a negative impact that extends into grade school and beyond. This document provides recommendations regarding best practices in implementing developmentally appropriate experiences for children in child care programs (0-12 years) that can prevent suspension and expulsion.
Early childhood is a critical time for developing the foundations for later emotional and mental wellness. Adverse experiences have the potential to affect brain development, and contribute to developmental delays. The foundations for strong mental health include a safe environment, adequate nutrition, and positive interactions with caregivers. Mental health is part of overall health; a healthy child has a healthy body and a healthy mind. To learn more about mental wellness in early childhood click here.
Early Impact Virginia is a group of public and non-profit programs that serve families of children from pregnancy through age 5. Their purpose is to deliver in-home parenting education and family support services that improve the health, social and educational outcomes of young children and their families. Click here to learn more about Early Impact Virginia programs and resources.
In addition to finding a child care provider who is available based on your activity schedule, it is equally important to search for a quality child care setting where health and safety are considered a priority. A high quality child care program puts health and safety first. The following information and links will help parents learn more about health and safety, and valuable tips and hints to ensure that their own home is just as safe.
The USDA provides many resources to help families explore healthy eating and tips for engaging children in the process. Healthy habits begin at home and will stay with your children for a lifetime. We know that life is all about choices, let’s help children start on the right foot. Here you will find tips for becoming a role model and developing good habits. 10 Tips for Setting Good Examples
www.choosemyplate.gov is an excellent resource to learn more about nutrition and physical activity.
Healthy eating goes hand in hand with increased physical activity for children to support growth and learning. Good habits start early and may effect child development and success in school. As childhood obesity rates continue to increase, it is more important than ever for everyone who comes in contact with a child to help them stay healthy and active. LET’S MOVE!!! Click here for additional information.
Be prepared. When facing an emergency situation it is very important to remain calm to make appropriate decisions to ensure your safety. Imagine you are a child care provider and must ensure the safety of the children in your care. Having a well thought out plan and preparing prior to any emergency situation is key. For additional information and resources on emergency preparedness, please click here.
The Safe to Sleep® campaign (formerly known as Back to Sleep®) aims to educate parents, caregivers, and health care providers about ways to reduce the risk of SIDS and other sleep-related causes of infant death. About 3,500 babies die suddenly and unexpectedly each year in the United States. These deaths are the result of unknown causes, Accidental Suffocation and Strangulation in Bed (ASSB), and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). SIDS is defined as an unidentified cause of death in a baby younger than one year. Here you will find additional information about SIDS to arm yourself with the information to keep your children safe at home and with their child care provider. For additional information please click here.
Shaken baby syndrome is a type of inflicted traumatic brain injury that happens when a baby is violently shaken. A baby has weak neck muscles and a large, heavy head. Shaking makes the fragile brain bounce back and forth inside the skull and causes bruising, swelling, and bleeding, which can lead to permanent, severe brain damage or death. Shaken baby injuries usually occur in children younger than 2 years old, but may be seen in children up to the age of 5. To learn more about Shaken Baby Syndrome as well as tips for parents and providers to understand the triggers and reduce the occurrence of injury click here.
Health professionals and scientists now understand that there is no safe level of lead exposure for babies or toddlers. The best way to know if your home’s water is contaminated is to test what’s coming out of the tap. The Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health has partnered with Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF) to make Lead in Water Action Kits available to families across America so they can test their tap water for the presence of lead. These in-home test kits will be sent to a lab at Virginia Tech for analysis, and each family will receive its test results along with a report containing actions the family can take to reduce their exposure to lead.
New Family Engagement Resources!
Are you looking for ways to engage your young children at home? The University of Virginia’s Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning has developed STREAMin3 Family Activity Cards. The activity cards are simple but meaningful activities that support children’s development across their day at home. They can be easily modified to use with multiple age groups, so if there are siblings of varying ages at home, everyone can participate. Additionally, there is a short family guide around supporting equity and acceptance. The Virginia Department of Social Services is excited to have partnered with UVA to bring you these wonderful resources. Please click the links below to download or print the cards and guide.
Birth to Five: Watch Me Thrive!
Birth to Five: Watch Me Thrive! is a federal effort to encourage healthy development, universal developmental and behavioral screening for children, and support for the families and providers who care for them. Early identification allows for earlier intervention which tends to cost less and be more effective. To learn more about Birth to Five: Watch Me Thrive! click here.Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFFEL)
CSEFFEL is focused on promoting the social and emotional development and school readiness of young children birth to age 5 and has developed an extensive set of training materials, videos and print resources including family tools for supporting social and emotional development.
Tucker Turtle Takes Time to Tuck and Think at Home
Infant & Toddler Connection of Virginia
The Infant & Toddler Connection of Virginia provides early intervention supports and services to infants and toddlers from birth through age 2 who are not developing as expected or who have a medical condition that can delay normal development. To find out more about early intervention services in Virginia, click here.
Free tools: Track your child’s development, and photos and videos of developmental milestones. From birth to 5 years, your child should reach milestones in how he plays, learns, speaks, acts and moves. Track your child’s development and act early if you have a concern.
Research-based tip sheets for families, caregivers and early learning educators to help make the most of everyday language building experiences. Downloadable resources are in English and Spanish.
Talking is Teaching
Talking is Teaching is a campaign that shares tips and great ideas to make everyday activities teaching moments by talking and/or reading and/or singing with young children. To learn more about Talking is Teaching click here.
Family Readiness Kit
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently developed an updated AAP Family Readiness Kit to help families prepare to get disaster-ready.
First Things First Parent Kit
This digital Parent Kit will help you meet the challenges of being a parent and supporting the healthy development of your baby, toddler or preschooler. To learn more click here.
Healthy Futures VA
Healthy Futures VA is your source for up-to-date children’s health information. View videos and text about children’s health topics or explore what happens during a child’s health care visit to a medical professional. To learn more about Healthy Futures VA click here.
Safe Kids Virginia
Safe Kids Virginia is your go-to source for safety information, where you will find tips from safety experts to keep kids of all ages safe from preventable injuries. To learn more click here.
Child Care Aware
Child Care Aware of Virginia is a community-based network of early care and education specialists whose purpose is to deliver services to families, child care professionals, and communities to increase the accessibility, availability, and quality of child care in Virginia. Child Care Aware provides a referral service and information about child care for parents, as well as the opportunity to talk with experts about parenting issues. To learn more about Child Care Aware click here.
Head Start Early Learning & Knowledge Center
The Head Start Early Learning & Knowledge Center has a wealth of resources for families about Head Start, Early Head Start, health & safety, child development, parenting, school readiness and supporting your family’s well-being. To learn more click here.
National Association for the Education of Young Children
The National Association for the Education of Young Children promotes high-quality learning for all children birth – age 8. This national organization accredits child care programs based on ten standards of quality that they have developed. They also offer information for families on a variety of topics related to child development and learning. To learn more about the National Association for the Education of Young Children click here.
Families Forward coordinates the Virginia Circle of Parents support group program as a part of the National Circle of Parents Network. It is structured to allow for the sharing of responsibility among parents and practitioners and network members who represent all walks of life. National Network participants include parent leaders, organization administrators, community organizers, management and program services staff and a variety of human service professionals.
Virginia Infant & Toddler Specialist Network
The Virginia Infant & Toddler Specialist Network has a resource section on their website that provides information on numerous topics for families including child development, early intervention, early childhood mental health, and exceptional children. To learn more about these resources, click here.
Virginia Partnership for Out-of-School Time
VPOST is dedicated to developing and expanding academic, social, emotional, and physical supports and services to school-age children throughout Virginia during out-of-school time hours. They offer resources to parents on parenting and raising children, food security, summer activities, STEM, and help finding the right afterschool program. To learn more about the Virginia Partnership for Out-of-School Time click here.
Virginia Quality is a program that assesses, improves, and communicates the level of quality in childcare centers and preschools. Programs that are in good standing with their regulatory authority voluntarily commit to continuous quality improvement to better serve the children in their care. To search for a Virginia Quality rated program, click here.
Zero to Three
Zero to Three is a national, nonprofit organization that provides parents, professionals and policy makers the knowledge and know-how to nurture early development. They offer a broad range of information using tip sheets, pod casts, videos, articles and more on topics ranging from play to challenging behaviors, social-emotional development and school readiness and early learning. To learn more, click here.
The Child Care Subsidy Program helps low income parents pay for child care while they work or participate in approved education or training activities. In addition to the Subsidy Program, the Commonwealth of Virginia offers numerous other programs to assist low income families in their goal of achieving self-sufficiency. To learn more, the Family Resource Reference Guide offers families a brief description of these programs and information on how to apply.
Early Childhood Resources