How to Find Quality Child Care
Advice to make sure your kid will get the best child care experience.
Looking for high-quality child care? Whether you need the occasional babysitter, a morning day care, or a full-time nanny, finding quality child care is an important decision. You'll want to find a situation that meets your scheduling needs, provides the type of care you want, has a fee within your price range, and has a setting both you and your child feel comfortable with. Here are tips on how to make the search easier.
Choose a Childcare Type
Your first step is to determine what kind of child care you need. A babysitter is ideal for an afternoon appointment or night out. A nanny provides regular, daily in-home child care; an au pair lives with your family in exchange for a certain numbers of child-care hours a week. Looking for child care outside your home? A good option might be a small family day-care center. "Family day cares generally provide a more homelike environment, where a child can relate to a single caregiver," says Lynette Fraga, executive director of Child Care Aware of America. "Sometimes parents choose [a] family day care because they find it closer to home, less expensive, or more flexible." Or opt for a larger day-care center, which offers benefits such as "more staff, space, equipment, toys, and organized activities," Fraga says, and "children are usually in larger groups with multiple caregivers, which can make the arrangement more dependable."
One of the best ways to find local quality child care is to ask fellow parents (friends, family, and colleagues) for their recommendations. Another parent can provide you with more detailed inside info, such as whether their kids cheer or groan when a babysitter arrives or whether a day-care center provides progress reports of what the child accomplished each day. Although a personal recommendation is certainly more preferable than reading a testimonial in a brochure or reviews on a website, you should check out the source yourself by scheduling appointments to meet with a babysitter, nanny, or day-care center director.
Look for Licenses and Certifications
"All states require child-care centers to be licensed," Fraga says. "Licensing doesn't ensure quality, but it does set minimum health, safety, and caregiver training standards, which centers must maintain." Licenses and certifications do not guarantee perfect child care, but they are still a good factor to consider. Deb Moberly, Ph.D., an early childhood development specialist and founder of Children 1st, suggests that parents consider one more factor. "I always recommend that a parent start with the National Association for the Education of Young Children's website [NAEYC.org] and look for accredited child-care centers in their area. The accreditation reflects that the center has met the highest quality of standards and processes for childcare and education," Dr. Moberly says. "NAEYC places great emphasis on quality, including a well-educated staff, family involvement, health and safety, child centeredness, a curriculum, assessment of children's learning and development, and administrative practices." If you're considering a nanny or babysitter, ask if she is CPR-certified or if she has taken a child-care training course offered by community centers or child welfare organizations.
Before you hire a sitter or sign up with a child-care center, do your due diligence, says Katie Vaughan, owner of Westside Nannies in Beverly Hills, California. Check with at least two references that can answer your questions and provide information on their experience with the child care provider. Use them to learn about both the positive and the potentially negative aspects of working with the person or facility. For babysitters and nannies, you may want to call past employers, do a background check, and consider asking for a driving record or for the candidate to take a drug test. Many nanny agencies will administer drug tests, but over-the-counter drug test kits can be purchased and administered as well. For day-care centers, check to see if their state license is current, if any formal complaints have been filed with the state licensing agency or the Better Business Bureau, and if other parents are satisfied with the service.
Do a Trial Run
Before you commit long-term to a sitter or a day care center, set up a trial run where you can test out the match and see if the care is a good fit for your child and your family lifestyle. Be extra-observant during this period, which can vary depending on the type of child care (a few hours for a nanny or a few weeks for an outside provider). See how your child behaves. Notice how the provider interacts with your child. Watch out for red flags, Moberly warns, such as your child continually refusing to go to a day-care center or your provider being reluctant to give any information about your child's progress. Always trust your gut, Vaughan says. Although any new situation may feel a bit strange and require an adjustment period, keep looking if you have a strong feeling that something isn't right, even if you don't have specific evidence. Child care is not helpful if you don't have the peace of mind that your child is being well cared for.