By Melissa Fiorenza

A few things my close friends and family all know about me: I’m a bit of a worrier; a tad hypochondriac, a smidge germaphobe, a pinch over-reactor. (I sound like a lot of fun, right?) I’m ‘fessing up though so you can imagine how selective I was when it came to choosing a child care center. Fortunately, I made the right choice, as I now have two kids going there daily—and I have zero concerns when I leave after drop-off.

Searching for one yourself? Everyone has their own non-negotiables, but if you’re anything like me, these are my top three.

1. Pride. This is what I mean: When you tour centers, you should be able to sense that the staff takes blatant pride in their work and facility. Look into the classrooms to check out the teachers; are they down on the ground with the kids, or checking their iPhones? See if your tour guide talks about meeting the state’s standards and their own standards. Take note of the equipment and rooms; do they take pride in keeping things clean? When I toured the one I chose, the owner admitted he was a neat freak to explain why he was temporarily covering a tiny mark on the wall with a blank piece of paper. I loved that! Those little remarks can signify something bigger.

2. Transparency. My absolute favorite things about my daycare (aside from the fantastic staff) are the video cameras I get to log into throughout the day to see my kids and the mobile app that connects me to their teachers while I’m on the go. The cameras I’m referring to are a service called WatchMeGrow; check out the site to find out if any centers near you offer it as well. I can literally see my son running around and my baby girl snoozing in her crib—and with the mobile app my center uses, I can see how their days are going, receive photos, and essentially text with their teachers. This, to me, is all about transparency. My center has nothing to hide. They trust their staff to always be on their best behavior, and believe that parents have a right to see what’s going on. That’s amazing, isn’t it?

3. Compassion. This one is kind of a no-brainer, but it comes down to the people. When you check off all the boxes on your must-have list—provides AM and PM snacks, is the right size for comfort, invests in nice toys and furniture—you have to make sure the staff is comprised of people you genuinely like. For me, that’s people with compassion. Compassion for my kids, compassion for other teachers, compassion for parents. I want my kids to learn and absorb and grow and have fun, but above all, I want them to start out being good people (ha, as much as a toddler can be!), or at least be surrounded by people with heart. You can’t go wrong with that.

Good luck on your search! I hope you find one you can call a second home, like I can.

Melissa Fiorenza is a writer, author, and ever-worrying mom with two kids in daycare. She has been published in/on Health, Prevention.com, Ladies’ Home Journal, and All You magazine, among others. She currently works full-time at a higher education marketing agency in Troy, New York.