All the Comforts of Home
Family Child Care
Day care in someone's house appeals to parents who want their Miss Giggles or Mr. Stinkypants to flourish in a personal environment. "Many parents like this setting for babies because it feels so nurturing," says Linda Smith, executive director of the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA). "Plus, the hours can be more flexible than at a day-care center." Make sure:
It has a business license and an inspection report you can view. They show that the state has inspected the home and run background checks on the provider, and that the provider-to-child ratio is within state limits (you can check guidelines at ChildCareAware.org and search for accredited providers at NAFCC.org; 3-to-1 is the ideal).
The provider has been certified. Although experience as a mom is a fine quality in a family day-care provider, it's not enough. Check that she's trained in CPR and infant first aid, and that she takes refresher courses annually. Ask how many kids she accepts, max (including drop-ins). If you expect the place to serve as preschool later, inquire about the provider's education and experience.
It's okay to drop by for a tour. Do this unannounced, and check to see how the child-care space is set up, how clean the kitchen is, and how kids interact with the provider. Show up around mealtime or naptime. "That's when kids get tired and cranky, and how the provider handles the situation will say a lot," Smith says.
The home is babyproofed. Inspect a provider's house for any safety hazards. Ask how many smoke detectors are in the house (as in your own home, there should be at least one per floor) and about an emergency-evacuation plan. Check that outdoor play areas are fenced and gated securely. "If a provider resents the hard questions, then leave," Smith says.
You know who else will have access to your child. Find out about other adults living in the home. Also, ask whether the child-care provider ever leaves her charges with someone else while she runs an errand, and how often this might happen. You'll need to be as comfortable with the provider's backup as you are with her.
References are freely provided. Ask at least two parents what they love about the care provider -- and what, if anything, they wish were different.
It's a screen-free zone. Children who are younger than 2 years old should not be watching any television, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. "There's research on the increase of ADHD characteristics in young kids who watch a lot of TV," notes Jill Stamm, Ph.D., author of Bright From the Start.