Choosing Child Care

first5-choosing-child-careFirst 5 is aware how challenging it can be for parents to find an early care and education experience for their children. You know your child, and want the best, but the system can be complex. Santa Barbara County is fortunate to have access to a variety of agencies who can help you. We at First 5 partner with these agencies to ensure parent’s needs are met, and to avoid duplication of effort – making sure resources are well spent. Below are some topics that may be of help, and some places you can visit to help you with your search. 

Quality Child Care Matters

Children get their best start in life when they have stable, nurturing and stimulating environments that foster their development. Research shows that these kinds of high quality early learning experiences lead to greater success in school and in life. High quality early care and education supports all children’s learning and development in a safe, engaging environment through caring, qualified professionals partnering with families.

Types of Child Care

In California, 62 percent of kids under 5 spend at least part of their day with a caregiver other than a parent. There are many different types of caregivers.

Informal Care
  • grandparents, aunts/uncles, other relatives
  • friends
  • babysitter or nanny
  • “license-exempt” care, such as before/after-school programs at school sites or drop-in recreation programs
Licensed Child Care

This can include programs with a variety of titles: child care, family child care, family day care home, preschool, Head Start, day care, State Preschool, child development program, early learning center, and others.

  • licensed family child care homes where care takes place in the provider’s home. Homes can be small (up to 8 children) or large (up to 14 children).
  • licensed child care centers serve 15 or more children, and are typically in a stand-alone child care facility or house. Centers in Santa Barbara County vary in size from 20 children to 160, although most serve 60 – 80 children.

Choosing the Right Care for Your Child

The right child care plan for your family will depend on your priorities, needs, and budget. You will need to consider how much care you need, where it should be, and the environment that is best for your child. First 5 California offers an excellent list of questions to ask to help you make a plan.

Locating Child Care Providers

After you have a general sense of what you need, create a list of possible providers.

  • Visit Children’s Resource & Referral of Santa Barbara County to access a list of licensed and/or accredited providers as well as additional selection resources.  You can also call for a list of licensed early care and education programs at (805) 925-1989. Click here to download the accredited providers in a quick snap shot.
  • Search the Quality Counts index of over 125 Family child care programs, and Child care centers and preschools in Santa Barbara County voluntarily participating in the Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS). These programs are committed to quality improvement and go beyond regulatory licensing requirements to support the children in their care by providing a strong foundation for school readiness and beyond.
  • Ask friends and family who cares for their children.

Evaluating a Program

Before scheduling your visit, download the Santa Barbara County Child Care Planning Council’s Quality Child Care Checklist. It has some sample questions and tips that will help guide you.

Trust your instincts. Watch how the caregivers interact with your child. Engage with the provider – let them know about your child, and ask questions.

If your child has special needs, the Santa Barbara County Child Care Planning Council has compiled resources to assist you in your search and has created an Inclusive Child Care Action Team (ICCAT) to increase the quality and quantity of inclusive care in our region.

Paying for Child Care

There are several programs that offer financial assistance to eligible parents. Parents can access information about some of these programs by:

  • Contacting Children’s Resource & Referral of Santa Barbara County, (805) 925-1989.
  • Contacting SBCEO Child Development Programs at (805) 964-4710 ext. 4474.
  • Ask if your preferred provider offers scholarships, fee waivers, or sliding scales.
  • Ask your employer if they offer child care subsidies or if you can open a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account.
  • Finding out more about how to get your employer to adopt “family-friendly policies”.
  • Working with an accountant or tax preparer to learn if any of your Child and Dependent Care Expenses are eligible for tax deductions or credits.

Additional information for our county can be found at