Special Report: Daycare Decision Updated: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 WEST MICHIGAN (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Choosing a daycare provider for your child can be a daunting and emotional task.There are more than 500 in Kalamazoo County alone.Newschannel 3 did some digging and found out what you need to know to keep your kids safe and happy in our special report, Daycare Decision.The early years of a child's life are a critical time, and according to experts, they shape the way a child thinks, learns, and behaves.So we found out what red flags to watch for, and what questions to ask a potential day care provider.Like anything else important to you, when it comes to day care, experts recommend to shop around.First, decide what type of environment you prefer--a casual setting with less kids or a structured classroom with lots of playmates--because the child-to-adult ratio is important.In a family child-care home one adult can look after six kids.In a group child-care home, there needs to be two adults for twelve children.And at a child-care center, it's based on square footage, so the facility may be licensed for up to 150 kids.When you visit your options, experts advise you bring your child with you and prepare a list of questions before you go."Can I come and visit any time while my child is here? If that's a no, that's somewhat of a red flag, because it should be an open environment," said Renee Diaz, a director at Child Care Resources.While you're visiting, make sure that cleaning chemicals are locked up, electrical outlets are covered, and go with your gut instinct. Do the providers and children seem happy?"I would want to see her feeling comfortable, the kids feeling comfortable, laughing, smiling, a relaxed atmosphere," Diaz said.Safety is a major concern, which is why the state automatically does a background check on the provider and anyone else living in the home before they're licensed.But as Newschannel 3 discovered, that doesn't necessarily mean that the provider has a clean record."It is (possible to have a criminal background and be licensed). But it would have to be very old, and it would depend on what you did," Diaz said.If you want a provider that's not licensed, do an I-Chat to check or criminal history, or request a child abuse and neglect screen through the Department of Human Services.Another great resource is GreatStartConnect.org. There you can find providers who voluntarily use the state's star-rating program, rated on environment, curriculum, and management.The YWCA children's center has a 4-out-of-5 rating, one of the best, so we went there looking for more day care tips.Program Director Amy Lason says to look for toys with learning concepts and engaged adults."The kind of conversations that they're having, if they're deep, in-depth conversations, or just very superficial, something like, 'oh, nice job, I like that," or it's more in-depth, 'tell me what you did.'" she said.Lason says to ask about discipline--do they use time outs or problem solving? Do they have a quiet place for children to escape from the group and have some alone time? And is the staff consistent?"If you're coming in and every time I pick up, there's a different person there, that would be a concern," she said. "You want continuity for the kids. It builds trust."Finally, ask about education.If a provider has a background in early childhood development, they'll be more likely to identify any behavioral or cognitive issues in your child.