SANTA MARIA, Calif. -

When choosing a home daycare, it may not be obvious to parents which ones are licensed. Anyone can operate a daycare facility right out of their own backyard, and that’s what makes it so tough to regulate. But there are ways to find daycares that are legal, and it's up to the parents to do their part.

Jamee Baker has owned a home daycare for 26 years.

"You are probably the least paid person, but you’re taking care of the most important thing in someone’s life," said Baker.

Baker’s job never ends. She runs a family child care business in her home, taking care of more than a dozen kids with the help of her assistants.

"It's so fun," said her assistant Penelope Toogood. "We just play and have a good time. The kids learn and we grow with them."

But it’s not as simple as you might think. California law requires Baker to be licensed each year at a cost of about $127 dollars. Along with that she’s required to fill out tons of forms, including background checks and medical certifications. Baker says going through the hassle benefits everyone.

"If somebody is not licensed, you don’t know what’s gone on with them," said Baker. "I just go back to the protection. The protection for you, the protection for the kids, the protection for the parents.

Finding a licensed facility online is simple. Go to the state’s Community Care Licensing website and click the "Find Licensed Care" tab on the side. After you fill in the blanks, a list of licensed providers pops up complete with contact information.

The Department of Social Services provides advice on how to select the best child care provider for your child, but Baker says  simply follow her golden rule.

"The number one thing I tell every parent is to do more than 1 interview," said Baker. "Go interview more than one person because you’re going to get a different feel."

The California Department of Social Services provides a list of tips and suggestions for parents on how to choose the best daycare for your child. Here is what it has to say:

HEALTH AND SAFETY CHECKLIST:

You should check for basic health and safety practices in
the home. Your FCC Provider, by state law and regulation,
must do the following:
- Get a license from the local licensing agency.
- Provide care to no more than eight children (with no
more than two children under age 2) or 14 children
with an assistant (with no more than 3 children under
age 2).
- Make sure the home has heat in cold weather and is
cool in hot weather.
- Keep detergents and cleaning products out of
children’s reach.
- Make sure swimming pools are fenced or have a pool
cover.
- Baby gates must block stairs in facilities when children
less than five years old are in care.
- Store guns, other weapons, and poisons in locked
areas.
- Have an emergency plan in case of fire or earthquake.
- Keep an emergency information card on every child in
care.
- Keep a fire extinguisher and working smoke alarm in
the FCC home.
- Provide a smoke free environment.
- Not use baby walkers, bouncers or similar items.

WHAT SHOULD THE FAMILY CHILD CARE HOME PROVIDE?

You should get answers to these questions before placing your
child in the home:
- Is the home clean and safe?
- Are there enough toys and games?
- How will my child be disciplined? (Spanking, hitting,
slapping, shaking and so forth are not permitted in
licensed homes.)
- What meals will my child be given?
- How will the food I bring be stored and prepared?
- Is there enough room (indoor and outdoor) for my child to
play?
- What activities are planned for my child?
- How will my child be cared for when he or she gets sick?
- How many other children will be in care?
- What ages are the other children?
- What are the sleeping/napping/rest arrangements?
- How will I find out if my child is hurt or injured while in care?

DISCUSS THE FOLLOWING WITH THE PROVIDER

- Setting times for arrival and pickup.

- Bringing items from home (food, toys, change of diapers,
change of clothes, toothbrush, infant furniture, and so forth).
- Providing instructions for giving medicines or special food.
- Providing telephone numbers for home, work, spouse’s
work, doctor and neighbor.
- Providing a list of names and telephone numbers of people
who may pick up your child.

GOOD CHILD CARE INCLUDES THESE THINGS:

- A provider who provides warm and loving care and guidance
for your child, and who works with you and your family to
make sure your child grows and learns in the best way
possible.
- A home that keeps your child safe, secure, and healthy.
- Activities that help your child grow mentally, physically,
socially and emotionally.
- Your involvement in your child’s care.