What to Look For

Why Quality IS Important


A child’s brain grows fastest during the first three to five years of life. Interactions with adults, including child care providers, during these crucial, early years greatly impact children’s future and lifelong success. Recent research shows that the quality of child care has a lasting impact on children’s well-being and ability to learn. Children in poor quality child care lag behind their peers in language and reading skills and display more aggression toward other children and adults.

Plan to spend enough time visiting potential child care providers to assess the programs. Choosing child care matters because a strong early childhood education lasts a lifetime.

Types of Child Care

There are several types of care available to meet the needs of families.

Offer a home-like atmosphere with a ratio of one caregiver to maximum of six children, including the provider’s own, under the age of six.
Are settings where two adults provide care for a maximum of 12 children, including the provider’s own, under the age of six. Care is often, but not always, provided in a private home.
Care for 13 or more children with hours that normally coincide with regular working hours. Maximum capacity is based on square footage of the facility. Staff/child ratio and group size are based on the age of the children.
Are part-day, sometimes part-year, programs and are not licensed in Montana. Some fulltime child care programs offer preschool programming.
Have income-based eligibly. They are part-day, part-year comprehensive programs. Head Start is for 3-5 year olds. Early Head Start serves infants and toddlers. Find Head Start services near you.
May be offered in licensed or unlicensed programs. Some schools offer programs that operate until about 5:30 pm. There are a variety of summer programs for school-aged children; some operate all summer and some focused programs are only available for a week or two, like science or sports camps.
Are not regulated by the state of Montana because the care provided is usually irregular and for shorter periods of time.

Tips for Finding Quality Child Care

Take your time in choosing a child care provider.
Compare your options, and ask plenty of questions. Here is a checklist to help you know what to look for and what to ask.
Check the provider’s licensing history.
For information on the provider’s registration/license status, as well licensing inspection reports, visit the Montana Public Provider Portal.

We can help you interpret any unfamiliar terms. It’s very useful information for parents, but written more for licensors and child care facility owners.

Best Beginnings STARS to Quality
Over 230 child care programs are participating in Montana’s Best Beginnings STARS to Quality program; a voluntary Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS). Participating facilities receive support and financial incentives for meeting specific quality indicators in a five-level system. View a list of facilities in the STARS to Quality Program.
Is the provider nationally accredited?
Nationally accredited homes and centers voluntarily meet standards of quality that are much higher than Montana’s licensing regulations. Accredited programs have developmentally appropriate environmental considerations, quality factors, better child-staff ratios and stricter staff training qualifications. STAR 5 programs are nationally accredited.

Search to see if the child care you are considering or using is accredited. For group and family homes, check with the National Association of Family Child Care.

To see if a child care center is accredited, visit the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Common Child Care Business Practices

Child care businesses are typically independent businesses. Some are part of larger organizations. Child cares are licensed by the State of Montana. Licensing establishes and enforces health and safety standards.

Child care programs have contracts which explain their businesses practices, including your responsibilities and the rates and fees. Read the contract carefully and ask questions if you are confused.

Some of the common business practices are summarized here to help you prepare for your search.

As private businesses, child cares set their own rates and fees. They may offer hourly, daily, weekly or monthly rates. Many require advance payment.

Most child care businesses have a contract which includes fees. When parents sign a contract, they have agreed to the conditions outlined, including their rates. Some child care programs have application fees and activity fees. Many have fees for picking a child up late or paying later than agreed upon

The Best Beginnings Child Care Scholarship payments are set at the 75th percentile of the market rate, to allow parents using the scholarship program to access most programs. Families must make a co-payment monthly to be eligible for the scholarship. Required co-payments are made directly to the child care provider. Child care businesses can set their rate below, at, or above the state reimbursement rate. They may have other fees not covered by the scholarship program.

Learn more about Best Beginnings Scholarship eligibility.

To learn more about the market rate for Best Beginnings Child Care Scholarship.

It’s difficult to fill the balance of a part-time slot, therefore, some child care facilities only have full-time slots and rates even for families who need part-time care. Child care businesses often need to charge a full-time rate for a part-time child just to assure the financial viability of their business. If a child is present five hours, the provider usually charges a full-time rate. . If you secure a part-time slot in a facility and give them your schedule, they may serve another child to fill the hours that your child is not there. Therefore, you may not be able to expand your hours beyond the agreed-upon arrangement. Holidays and Vacation – Like many workplaces, child care businesses may close on major holidays. They may also close for a scheduled provider vacation. You may be charged for these days so that the provider gets a paid time off too. Providers may charge scholarship parents for holidays or vacation days not covered by the Best Beginnings scholarship program.
Many childhood illnesses are highly contagious. Therefore, to protect the health of all children in care, do not bring your child to child care if they have a contagious illness with symptoms such as fever or vomiting. If these symptoms occur while at child care, the provider will call and request you pick up your child promptly.
Parents will be required to list who is approved to pick up a child, including backups like extended family and friends. A non-custodial parent has the right to pick up their child, whether or not the custodial parent has authorized it, unless there is a court order preventing the non-custodial parent from unsupervised access to their child.