Too far away, too pricey, too crowded: Finding a day care center that’s just right for you and your child can be as challenging as Goldilocks’s search for the perfect bed. There’s a lot riding on the home-away-from-home you select for your little one — especially her safety.

To find a safe day care center, start by narrowing down potential ones based on fee, location and hours. A good place to start: ChildCare Aware of America, where you can search for child care agencies by zip code.

Next, do some basic homework. At the very least, day care centers should be licensed, which indicates they meet your state’s minimum standards for health, safety and programming. (Some states use the term “regulated care” to describe a center that meets the standards.) Also important to look for is accreditation by an organization such as the National Association For the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) or the National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC). Accreditation means the center voluntarily meets and maintains standards above and beyond state licensing requirements.

Finally, tour your top contenders. Find out if you can stop in at any time. You may want to think twice about a place that won’t let you pop in unannounced. If you can, stay for at least an hour. While you’re there, look for these key signs that the day care center is safe:

1. Security is tight. You shouldn’t be able to simply walk in. There should be a buzzer system for visitors. Staff and others who regularly go in and out of the center should use a code or keycard. Once you’re inside, there should be someone at the door to greet you.

2. Staff members know their safety stuff. The people who will be caring for your child should be certified in CPR and first aid. The staff should also know and follow basic safety precautions, particularly safe sleep practices for babies: Napping infants should be on their backs in cribs free of pillows, bedding, soft toys or other items that could put them at risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

3. Essential childproofing practices are followed. For example, electrical outlets are covered. Shelves are secured to walls so they won’t tip over. Cords on window blinds don’t form loops that could strangle a child.

4. Kids are supervised at all times. This means caregivers are attentive and involved. Nix a center if you notice staff members chatting in a corner while little ones are left to play on their own. There also should be enough staff members to go around. Ratios of kids to day care workers are dictated by state regulation and are based on the age of the children.

5. Rules are in place to lower the risk of abuse. Before being hired, day care workers should undergo thorough background checks. They also should be trained in how to prevent and recognize child abuse. And staff members should be able to see each other at all times: A child should never be alone with a caregiver.

6. The center can handle emergencies. There are detailed plans in case of fire, tornado, earthquake or other potential disaster. The center conducts monthly practice drills.

7. The building is toxin-free. Make sure it’s been checked for radon, lead and asbestos. Dangerous substances (cleaning supplies, insecticides) should be locked away and well out of reach of children.

8. Outdoor areas are safe. They should be fenced in and closely supervised when kids are at play. Equipment should be well maintained and the right size and type for the ages of the children who’ll use it. The play area surfaces should be wood chips, mulch, sand, pea gravel, shredded rubber or rubber mats.