How to Find, Choose, and Pay for High-Quality Child Care


Choosing child care for the young children in your life can be less stressful if you know what to look for when determining whether or not a program is “high-quality.” Continue reading below to learn what to look for, how to find and pay for child care, and more!



What to Look For

Caregivers who:

    • communicate through talk and touch, songs, and stories
    • engage at the child’s level, sitting, squatting, or laying on the floor
    • use a warm and supportive tone of voice while addressing a behavior or redirecting attention

Classrooms and settings that include:

    • organized, clean, and accessible materials for children to select without adult assistance
    • a variety of materials available for all types of play:
      • physical—developing gross and fine motor skills
      • object—sensory tables with rice, sand, or water, loose parts play
      • dramatic—costumes, housekeeping, or kitchen objects
      • constructive—art materials, blocks
      • games with rules—fingerplays to music or books, board games


    • play-based and allows for exploration, creativity, and inquiry

Family Engagement that includes:

    • an open-door policy for family members to drop-in
    • regular updates about a child’s day
    • special events, family nights, and programming in the evenings or on weekends

Designations like:

* Note that only licensed child care programs may participate in these rating systems.



Find Child Care

Now that you know how to determine if a program is high-quality, it is time to find programs that meet your location, time, and transportation needs. Here are a few resources to support your search.

Allegheny Child Care

Caregivers and parents of young children can now search available child care spots at all Allegheny County early learning, after-school, out-of-school, summer camp, and virtual programs in real-time with the Allegheny Child Care tool. Visit the Allegheny Child Care website to try it out and learn more.

Early Learning Resource Center (ELRC) Region 5

ELRC Region 5 provides a single point-of-contact for families, early learning services providers, and communities to gain information and access services that support high-quality child care and early learning programs. To learn more, visit the ELRC Region 5, email, or call 412.350.3577.

United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania

To talk to a resource specialist, call 2.1.1 or text your zip code to 898-211. Pennsylvania 211 resource specialists will listen to your needs and connect you to programs in your community.


Paying for Quality Care

You found a high-quality child care program and are ready to enroll your child, but how do you pay for it? Do you qualify for publicly-funded programs? Learn more about qualifying for subsidy and supplemental payment programs available for families below.

Pre-K Counts

Pre-K Counts is available to families with incomes that are no more than 300 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. Pre-K Counts is a school-day, school-year program for children ages three to four. This program may give preference to four-year-olds.

Child Care Works

Child Care Works (CCW) is available to families with incomes that are no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. Through CCW, children ages birth to 12 may receive a voucher to attend a child care program based on their family’s or household’s school or work schedule. A small co-pay is required from the family to receive services.

Head Start

Head Start is available to families with incomes that are no more than 100 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. Head Start is a school-day, school-year program for children ages three and four. This program may give preference to four-year-olds.

Early Head Start

Early Head Start (EHS) is available to families with incomes that are no more than 100 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. Early Head Start serves children birth to age two in home-based or center-based programs. Most of these programs are not full-time care.

Scholarships and Tuition Assistance

Even if you do not qualify for the programs listed above due to your income, many programs offer their own independent scholarships or tuition assistance programs. Ask each program you are considering if they offer financial assistance.


Take Action

After searching for an affordable high-quality program, too many families find themselves making compromises in the process. Affordable programs fill up quickly and many have long waiting lists. Simply put, there are just not enough high-quality slots to meet the needs of all families.

As a leading advocate in western Pennsylvania, Trying Together works every day with our local, regional, and state partners to advocate for child care access, affordability, and quality. Join our effort to expand access to high-quality child care by signing up to receive our advocacy action alerts!


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Image: A young child sits together with her peers, smiling happily at herself in the mirror.

Series Navigation

The Developmentally Appropriate Parenting Series highlights several early childhood topics to support parents and caregivers who are caring for young children. Use the list below to navigate through each series topic:

Learn more about the series.

Request free printed materials from our Developmentally Appropriate Parenting Series.


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