Asking for References

Asking for References

Making References Work for You

Calling references is an important final step when looking for child care. Regardless of the type of care - family child care, care in your home or center-based care - references should be available and used. We advise you to pass by any provider or program that won't give you names of other parents to call.

Make it clear to the provider that you want to call parents who have USED the care. Relatives, neighbors and friends who haven't used the care may be able to vouch for the person's character or a program's reputation but cannot tell you much about the actual care.

Try to get the names of both past and current users of the program. Talking to parents whose children are no longer enrolled can be useful since they may feel freer to be candid. However, they might not know about new strengths or weaknesses in the program. Parents whose children are currently enrolled can give you a picture of what the care is like right now.

Ask for a number of names - six or seven is not too many. If the provider is new, you may not be able to get many references. References you want to call may be difficult to reach so it's best to have more names than you need. If you feel uneasy about the responses of one or more references, you will have other parents to call without having to go back to the program to ask for more names.

Here are some suggested questions to ask. Use some or all of them and add more that address your own personal concerns:
  • How old was your child when s/he started care? What was the most difficult aspect of the transition into child care?
  • How long did your child remain with this provider? If the child is still in care, how long do you think you plan to keep your child with this provider?
  • Tell me about the strengths of this provider/program?
  •  What aspects of the care do you feel could be improved? Has this aspect of the care improved at all since you entered the program? Why or why not?
  • Were there any program rules about fees, holidays, hours, etc. with which you disagree? Were there any surprise rules which you were unaware of until you broke them?
  • What is the programs policy on discipline? On TV watching?

Listen to what is said and what isn't said. Silence and hesitations can speak volumes. Find a non-threatening way to probe a little deeper if an answer puzzles or disturbs you. While programs are naturally going to give you names of glowing references, don't assume that all you'll hear is praise. Even people who love their child care provider may tell you something which will help you decide that the program will or will not work for your child. If you have any doubts whatsoever about a caregiver, cross her off your list---trust what your instincts are telling you.

Once you've narrowed your list down and checked references, we urge you to call the Department of Early Education and Care, the state licensing agency, at 413-788-8401 for compliance history information.

In the end, you have to make up your own mind about a child care program, but the opinions and impressions of other parents can provide valuable insight as you mull over your choices. Someday, you can repay the help you received by being open and objective about your provider when other parents ask you to serve as a reference for them.