Choosing the Right Child Care

Every child care program is different. This can make it challenging to compare programs and determine which best suits the needs of your child and family. Luckily, we have a few tips to help you judge quality in child care programs.

Types of Child Care

The first step in selecting a child care program is determining the type of program you prefer. Wisconsin has four kinds of regulated child care programs, defined by size and location.

Family Child Care: This care is offered inside a child care provider’s home, and can serve a maximum of eight children under age 7. Children of all ages can be cared for and create a community in the same space.

Group Child Care: This care takes place in a commercial building specifically used for child care. Children typically stay in one classroom with consistent classmates and teachers/care providers, and transition to new developmentally appropriate classrooms as they grow older. At all times, staff must maintain staff-to-child ratios and maximum group sizes based on the age of the children.

Certified Child Care: This is care offered inside a home, and can serve a maximum of three children under age 7.

Day Camp: This care is offered seasonally, and can serve four or more children ages 3 and up.

Determining Quality with YoungStar

YoungStar is Wisconsin’s Child Care Quality Rating and Improvement System. What does this mean? YoungStar provides ratings to child care programs based on the number of quality practices they have in place. It also supports child care providers in implementing and improving quality practices that are proven to benefit young children.

For parents, this means comparing child care programs can be as easy as knowing their Star rating!


What YoungStar Measures

  Education & training:

  Children benefit when their teachers and caregivers have a solid foundation in early childhood development. So YoungStar weighs the academic achievements of a program’s teachers, administrators and caregivers.


   Learning environment & curricula: 

  Young minds need activity and engaging, meaningful experiences to grow. It’s important for healthy brain development. So YoungStar reviews each program’s learning materials, activities, lesson plans and more.

Children’s health & well-being:

  Children develop best in nurturing environments that provide well-rounded care—from physical activity and nutrition to playtime with others. So YoungStar rates how programs address the whole needs of a child.


Professional & business practices:

  When a program runs smoothly, it’s better able to focus on the needs of children and their families. YoungStar values programs that treat their employees fairly, involve parents fully and manage obligations responsibly.

Walk in My Shoes Brochure
A helpful checklist of what to look for when touring a child care program

“Reading the Stars” YoungStar Brochure
A guide to understanding YoungStar ratings

YoungStar for Parents
Browse DCF’s website and resources for parents looking for child care

Understanding YoungStar Ratings

5 Star: The program meets the highest levels of quality standards.
5 Star Automated: The program has earned national or city accreditation, and program staff meets the 5 Star educational requirements.
4 Star: The program meets elevated levels of quality standards.
4 Star Automated: The program is accredited by some body, and program staff meets the 4 Star educational requirements.
3 Star: The program is proficient in meeting quality standards.
2 Star: The program meets health and safety standards.
2 Star Automated: The program has submitted necessary paperwork to indicate it meets state requirements.
1 Star: The program does not meet minimum health and safety standards.


The YoungStar rating process  accounts for different program structures. For example, a group program with 100 children will meet different evaluation criteria than a family provider caring for three children.

Where to Start Your Child Care Search

Your local Child Care Resource & Referral Agency (CCR&R) is an excellent place to begin your child care search. Your CCR&R will help you conduct a personalized search for local providers that have spaces available and meet your needs, including location, care type, hours, special needs care, and more.

More Resources on Finding Child Care

Visit our Resource Center for more resources on finding child care in Wisconsin (and much more!).

Go to Resource Center