Choosing Child Care in Wisconsin

Group of kids looking down at camera

Finding the right caregiver for your child is often challenging, but it is one of the most important decisions you will make. Parents play the most important role in the life of a child; however, the relationship between a child and a caregiver can affect a child's self-image and how he or she views the world. When infants, toddlers, and young children receive warm and responsive care, they feel safe and secure. When parents know their children are receiving warm and responsive care by well-trained providers, those parents can return to the workforce feeling secure in the knowledge that their child is receiving safe and nourishing care.

The Department of Children and Families (DCF) has prepared a brochure called Choosing Child Care that provides some guidance to parents when selecting a child care provider. 

Please note, families who qualify for child care subsidies are required to use regulated child care whether it be licensed or certified (or programs operated by a public school). Contact the Child Care Resource and Referral at 1-888-713-KIDS (5437) for information about the child care choices available in your area or visit the DCF Child Care Search website.

For additional information on helping parents make child care choices, visit the YoungStar Parents web page. To understand the star rating that providers receive, read more about the star rating system in the YoungStar "Reading the Stars" brochure.

Important Questions...

Does Wisconsin have child care laws?

The State of Wisconsin has a child care law, Wisconsin Statute. 48.65 that requires a license when a person cares for four or more children under the age of seven who are not related to the provider.

What type of education and previous experience does the potential child care provider have?

Most experts consider caregiver education and training to be one of the most critical areas for ensuring and improving the quality of child care. Education in early childhood education and previous experience caring for children can help providers develop the skills necessary to provide quality early childhood experiences to children.

How many children will each caregiver take care of and how many children will be in the group?

Fewer children per caregiver and smaller group sizes are important because children receive more individual attention and caregivers can be more responsive to each child's needs. The child care licensing and certification regulations specify the maximum number of children who may be cared for in a group and they also specify the number of caretakers required for a group of children. For example, in a Licensed Group Child Care Center when children are under age 2, there should be no more than 4 children per caregiver with no more than 8 children in the group. When children are between ages 3 and 4 years, the Group Child Care Center licensing rules allow 10 children per caregiver with no more than 20 children in a group. Certification regulations allow no more than 3 children under the age of 7 who are not related to the provider.

What types of activities are planned for the children throughout the day?

Children need to be exposed to a variety of new experiences and opportunities in a safe environment. There should be some structure in the daily activities planned for children with opportunities to play outside each day. The program should be equipped with toys and furnishings that are safe and child appropriate. There should be open spaces for children to explore and quiet spaces for reading a book or playing with puzzles.

Can I visit the program any time that is convenient for me?

Licensing and certification rules require that parents be able to visit the program at any time. Sometimes, when you are asking to tour a program before placing your child there for care, a program may ask that you make an appointment so that someone may be free to show you around and answer questions. But once your child is enrolled in the program, you have the right to come in to the facility at any time.

What should I look for when visiting a center?

You can tell a lot about a child care program by visiting the program before you enroll and by stopping in unexpectedly after your child is enrolled. Things to look for when visiting a program include noise levels; crying children; whether there are televisions turned on all the time; and whether children seem engaged in meaningful play activities or are wandering aimlessly. Check to see if the child care providers are interacting with the children or whether they are busy with other tasks.

Where can I go if I need assistance finding child care?

There are 10 Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) agencies located throughout the state that are designed to help parents locate child care. These CCR&Rs have a listing of all regulated, licensed or certified child care providers in the counties served by the agency. They are able to provide lists of providers that meet the needs you specify and can also provide additional information related to choosing quality child care. Call 1-800-713-KIDS (5437) to be transferred to the agency serving the county in which the call originates or you can check the CCR&R web site to find the agency that serves your county.

I think I have found a provider to care for my child. How can I check to make sure that this provider is meeting the licensing/certification regulations?

All licensed and certified programs receive periodic monitoring visits. Each time a monitoring visit is conducted, the licensing/certification specialist checks to ensure compliance with selected licensing/certification rules. At the end of every monitoring visit, the licensing/certification specialist discusses any violations or concerns with the licensee/certified operator and a report of the findings is issued. This report can be either a Noncompliance Statement and Correction Plan that enumerates the violations found or a Compliance Statement that shows that no violations were observed on the visit. These reports identifying the results of monitoring visits for both licensed and public school operated child care programs are displayed on the public child care search website. In licensed programs, the reports also must be posted near the license in an area that is readily visible to parents and the public. If you don't see a visit report posted, you should ask the program to see the result of the most recent monitoring visit.

Parents are encouraged to call or visit the regional licensing office or certification agency to find out more about a program's compliance history. The licensing/certification office will also be able to tell you if any complaints have been filed about the program and whether those complaints were substantiated.

My child is enrolled in a child care program. I am concerned about something that has occurred and wish to talk with someone about my concerns. What should I do?

File a Child Care Complaint