Selecting a high quality care program and child care provider is one of the most significant decisions you will make for your children. Today’s millennial families often find themselves in a financial situation where both parents must work to provide a good future for their children. Unfortunately, the prices of just about everything seem to keep increasing at a rate much higher than inflation and as a result, as much as parents would love to stay home, they find themselves forced to work and relying on caregivers who are knowledgeable and can promote the healthy growth and development of infant and toddlers.
In addition, a quality daycare center will allow for your child to thrive and provide an enriching experience. Not only can a good center provide social interactions, activities, and experiences, but also cater to the child’s needs – providing appropriate stimulation and time to rest. Children need to be talked to and played with. They require love and attention. So it’s up to you to choose the best care for your infant or toddler. That alone seems to be an exhausting list to consider. So how do you go about finding a program that’s convenient, safe, within budget and meets all your family’s and child’s needs?
A Checklist for Your Search
Start planning as far in advance as possible. If you are expecting a baby now, start researching your options now! Depending on your geographical location, you may need to get on a wait list (even before the baby arrives).
If you have no idea where to start, call your local experts – Local Child Care Resource and Referral agencies can provide you with the facts and options that are best suitable for your needs. You may consider asking them about your local quality rating system, where you may find the child care providers, licensing requirements in your area, where you may be able to find complaints and licensing violations against a child care, and if all of the child care providers on your referral list are licensed by the state. You may also consider or need to look into child care financial assistance programs, and Child Care Resource and Referral agencies can let you know if your family qualifies.
VISIT/TOUR AND INTERVIEW
When you’ve narrowed down a few child care options, pop in unannounced and ask them to set up a tour at a later date in person. There’s a value in doing this, because you get a sense of how it really is when it’s unexpected. Just try to avoid visiting during nap time or lunch, as transition times tend to be a little extra chaotic. Look for the following five key indicators of quality:
- Staff to Child Ratio: One vital quality indicator is the number of children compared to the number of staff — its staff to child ratio. Infants require a staff to infant ratio of no more than one adult for four infants, while four year olds can do with one adult for ten children.
- Group Size: Determine how many children are in the group. Smaller groups are much more preferable. Just to give you a visual idea, imagine a group of 25 toddlers with five adults. Now compare that to a group of ten toddlers with two adults. The staff to child ratio is the same, but obviously the second group is calmer, safer, and a much better environment overall.
- Caregiver Qualifications: Discuss the caregivers’ education and training. Are they staying up to date and attending classes and workshops? Caregivers with degrees and/or special training will have a superior advantage in being able to aid your child in learning.
- Turnover: Ask caregivers how long they’ve been providing care at the same place. It’s best for children to be with the same caregiver for longer periods of time than constantly having to adjust. Time spent adjusting is time taken away from learning.
- Accreditation and Licenses: Figure out if your child care provider is licensed and has been accredited by a national organization. Accredited providers have met deliberate standards that are higher than most state licensing requirements. Two of the largest organizations to accredit child care programs are The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC). You can also ask for references and talk to families whose children currently attend the program or have in the past.
MAKE AN EDUCATED DECISION
Educate yourself with all the child care programs available. Take the necessary time to review violations and inspection reports. If you see a pattern in violations, that is a clear sign that you need to look at other child care options. Do not hesitate and call the references provided. Finally, think about everything you saw at each visit and how you felt walking away. Were you comfortable with the level of security, the provider interactions you witnessed on your surprise drop in, the health and safety measures taken to protect children, and the answers you were given? Does the program appear to be a place where your child would enjoy? Does it seem like you can trust this place and its providers?
Compare how you felt and what you’ve learned from each program and make the best decision for your child and family.
After selecting good care for your child, your work isn’t necessarily over. You and the caregiver are now important partners. Be available to meet with the caregiver, ask questions and volunteer your time when needed. Be there for your child and join special days and events. Even when you’re busy, you can still check in at drop-off in the mornings or pick-up in the afternoons. Being available sends a strong message and tells both your child and his/her caregiver that you strongly believe in your child’s learning.
Remember: It's An Important Job
In the end, this may seem like a long, grueling process. The truth? It is. But shouldn’t it be? You are searching for a person who will be taking care of your CHILD. What a precious, important job. Take all of the necessary steps, and do what it takes to make yourself (and your significant other) comfortable with the decision you have made. It will all be worth it in the end!