Family Child Care
Day care in someone's house appeals to parents who want their Miss Giggles or Mr. Stinkypants 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). "Some also like that the hours can be more flexible than at a day-care center." Make sure:
It has a business license, with a report you can view. It means the state has inspected the home and run background checks on the provider, and that the provider-to-child ratio is at or below state standards (you can check guidelines at childcareaware.org and search for accredited providers at nafcc.org; three-to-one is the ideal).
She's trained and certified. Although being an experienced 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 takes refresher courses annually. Ask how many kids she accepts, max (including drop-ins). If you expect the place to serve as preschool for a year or two, inquire about the provider's education and experience.
It's OK to drop by for a tour. 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, says Smith: "That's when kids get tired and cranky -- and how the provider handles the situation will say a lot."
The home is babyproofed. Inspect a provider's house for any and all 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. Says Smith, "If a provider resents the hard questions, you should leave."
You know who else will have access to your child. Find out about other adults living in the home, whether the child-care provider would ever leave her charges with someone else while she runs an errand, and how often this might happen. You'll need to be as comfortable and familiar with her backup caregiver as you are with her.
References are freely provided. Ask at least two parents what they love about the provider -- and what, if anything, they wish was different.
It's a TV-free zone. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television at all for children who are younger than two years old. Notes Jill Stamm, Ph.D., author of Bright From The Start, "There's research on the increase of ADHD characteristics in young kids who watch a lot of TV."