Finding a caregiver or a daycare for your child can be a stressful, guilt-ridden experience. Take this advice from a twenty-five-year veteran parent. But it doesn’t have to be if you do some research, preparation, and some mindfulness training. Yes. Finding the right caregiver or daycare isn’t merely about finding the right place for your child. It’s about putting yourself in a good mindset when it comes to leaving your child in the care of someone else.
Let’s be honest. No one will love your kids as much as you do. No one will do a perfect job watching them and caring for them either, including you. So when the times comes when you must find a caregiver or daycare for your child, you should keep that in mind. No caregiver, even a licensed one will replace you and no daycare will ever be just like home. Sometimes, if you do your homework right, it can be a stimulating, safe, positive complement to your parenting.
And it might just be a healthy parenting break for you too!
How to choose the right childcare or daycare solution
Analyze yours and family’s schedule
Map out your work and family schedule on a master family calendar, one located where everyone in the family can see it. Figure out blocks of time when you will need coverage for your child or when you feel a real break might be most productive or beneficial for you. Knowing your schedule in advanced makes the childcare search more productive. You can immediately weed out caregivers or centers that don’t provide daycare when you need it. It also makes it easier to assess whether an individual caregiver flexible hours or an established daycare center with structured hours works better for your family.
How old is your child?
This is a real consideration. Not all caregivers or daycare centers take children younger than three months. Others are capable of caring for newborns as young as six weeks but stop when your child enters nursery or preschool ages.
Consider your child’s temperament
Is your child easygoing, flexible with change; or does he need predictable structure every minute of the day? Is your child shy and timid, upset easily with noise and chaos? Does your child have an outgoing, fiery personality? How does your child behave in new settings around new people? This should be a real consideration when interviewing childcare providers or daycare centers. You should ask the provider during the interview about their approaches with children who are afraid or how they handle the exuberant, explosive temperament.
Make a list of wants and needs
Make a list of needs and wants. Do you want lunch to be included in the cost or do you want the provider to serve your food. Does your child have allergies that require special food handling? Do you want the provider to feed breastmilk that you provide? Do you need early and late care? These are just some of the wants and needs you should list on your priority list. There should be others too. Consider setting, cleanliness, licensing, years of experience, location, religious orientation as some of your parameters.
Does your child have disabilities or special needs? If so, you will want to find a caregiver or daycare provider who has the expertise to work with your child.
Another consideration might be educational. Some early childhood centers feed directly into early elementary and then elementary. For example, Montessori programs frequently offer early childhood programs that begin at ages as young as three years. Other larger daycare centers incorporate kindergarten and take children between the ages of six weeks and six years.
A most important consideration is licensing. Not all childcare providers are licensed. More often than not, family home daycare providers do operate without state licensing. If having a licensed provider is important, check with the Office of Licensing through your state. Your state’s Department of Human Services may maintain a database of licensed providers.
Consider your budget
This is a major deciding factor for many parents. Many parents must choose a childcare or daycare provider based on economics rather than quality. As a result, many parents are forced into a situation where they worry about the welfare of their children.
According to Childcare Aware of America in a 2014 report, child care in the United States remains unaffordable for many parents. The average cost of child care in the United States can be as much as $14,508 annually for an infant, or $12,280 annually for a four-year-old in a center, and does not always guarantee a quality environment. After you figure out your expenses and the amount you can allocate to daycare, add that to your priority list.
If your income places you in the low- and moderate-income range, you may be eligible for state-subsidized child care “including preschool instruction, after-school programs for children up to age 13, and care for children and teens with special needs.” Check with your state’s Department of Human Services website for information on subsidies or childcare services.
Find childcare or daycare providers that meet our criteria
In many states, the Department of Health and Human Services maintains a database of licensed home daycare providers and daycare centers. The database frequently includes any licensing infractions or issues with the provider. There are also a number of online services that advertise services of childcare providers and pre-screen the providers with background checks. Sites such as Care.com and Sittercity.com maintain search engines with licensed providers or independent sitters that have passed background checks. Also the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) provides a search engine of accredited childcare programs as well as information on choosing an early childhood program, ways to find the best care for your child or infant, and tips to ease the transition from home day care with an individual caregiver to a daycare center.
Visit childcare or daycare facilities
Once you locate a few childcare or day care providers that fit your wish list, set up a time to visit and interview teachers and directors. The following are some questions to ask in your interview.
- How long have you been in business?
- Do you have a current state license?
- Do you have other accreditations?
- How many children do you enroll at one time?
- Do you have space for my child?
- If not, can we get on a waiting list, and how long is it?
- What are your hours?
- What is your sick-child policy?
- What’s your holiday schedule? On what other days are you closed?
- How flexible are you with pickup and drop-off times?
- What are your fees?
- Do you offer scholarships or sibling discounts?
- Is there a late-pickup fee?
- How and when would you bill us?
- Do you supply diapers, or is that up to the parent?
- What other supplies would I need to bring for my child?
- Do you encourage visits from parents?
- What do you expect from me as a parent?
- How do you communicate with parents? Will you give me a daily report or is there another process for informing parents of what children did during the day (naps, bottles, BMs, etc.)?
- Can I bring my child in for a pre-enrollment visit?
And, do you have any references? A most important tip is to observe the children. Do children seem happy, relaxed, interactive?
Do call other parents who currently use or who have used the childcare provider. While visiting the provider, ask any parents you see questions, if they’re amendable.
Consider doing a trial run
A two- or three-day trial run can give you and the provider essential information. It can tell you if the relationship with your child and the childcare provider is a match, if the provider is who they say, and if your child is happy.
Monitor your child’s behavior
Preparation is the best prevention when leaving your child with a caregiver or daycare center. Know that separation anxiety is the norm, and if your child feels clingy before you leave is to be expected. The following video makes suggestions to parents about the separation process.