If you’re wrestling with child care decisions for your little one, you’re not alone. One of the toughest, and sometimes scariest, decisions a parent has to make is who is going to care for their child when they return to work.
You don’t want to leave your precious little ones with just anyone for hours a day, but it can be difficult to determine what type of child care is best for your child and family—whether it should a family child care home or child care center.
To make this all-important decision, we sought the help of Gini Hatch-Pigott, MD, a fellow parent and pediatrician with Banner Health Clinic in Mesa, AZ. Here’s a simple, but helpful, list on how to find the best (and safest) day care for your child.
1. Do some homework.
Once you figured out the kind of day care you want, when you want to start and about how much you want to spend, do your homework.
“It’s important to research the various options and gather information. You want to ensure your child is safe and that the caregivers have the education and training necessary to give your child the best, emotional, physical and nutritional support for this time of rapid brain development,” Dr. Hatch-Pigott said.
Start your research online. You can find out a program’s licensing status and get health and safety inspection reports, quality rating and national accreditations. The National Association for the Education of Young Children has a searchable database of accredited day care centers. You can also call Child Care Aware at 800-424-2246 to locate local child care resources and a referral agency that can recommend licensed centers and home day cares in your area.
“Licensing is important because it ensures that caregivers have no criminal background and that the site is following guidelines for cleanliness and is properly staffed,” Dr. Hatch-Pigott said.
Don’t forget to reach out to others on social media and ask friends, neighbors and fellow parents for advice.
“One of the best places to gather information is from other parents,” Dr. Hatch-Pigott said. “Parents often have information that you can’t find anywhere else, such as, ‘My child loves going there!’ or ‘My children seem so happy when I pick them up.’”
2. Request a tour and interview
Next on the list, is to schedule a visit to a few of your top choices. This gives you the opportunity to test out the commute, examine each center and ask lots of questions. It can also give you a better idea of how the facility runs, how the staff interact with children and what the overall vibe is like there.
“Parents should be allowed to tour the day cares,” Dr. Hatch-Pigott said. “Some day cares even allow children to attend for a day or two before committing to a monthly or year-long contract.”
One of the biggest concerns for parents is the ratio of caregiver to child and place space. “Staffing ratios are extremely important because too many children can lead to poor supervision, making accidents more likely to occur,” Dr Hatch-Pigott said. “Low child-to-adult ratios is also extremely important to your child’s social and emotional development and overall learning.”
Ratio requirements can vary by state and type of program.
Generally, in-home centers have established a safe ratio of 1:4 for a total number of children and child care centers have established a ratio of:
- 1:4 for infants
- 1:5 for age 1
- 1:8 for age 2
- 1:13 for age 3
- 1:15 for age 4
- 1:20 for age 5
In addition to inquiring to a day care’s adult-to-child ratios, here are some additional things to look for and ask during your visit:
- Can I "pop in” at any time, for example to breastfeed my infant or play with my toddler?
- Are children grouped by developmental level and are there developmentally appropriate toys?
- Can they make accommodations for my child’s specific medical needs (for example, diabetes or allergies)?
- How often are the rooms cleaned and sheets laundered?
- Who makes the meal plan? Where is the food made?
- How do you communicate with parents? Is there a parent portal where I can message the teacher? Are there cameras available for parents to check in on their children?
- What learning curriculum do you offer? Are there any extra curricula, such as baby sign language?
- How are children disciplined? (Corporal punishment is never OK!)
- What is your policy if a child is injured?
- What are your security practices to keep kids secure and safe? Do you have smoke detectors, clearly marked exits, gates on open stairways?
- Do you have part-time, full-time and drop-off options?
- What is the educational level of your caregivers?
- What is the employee turnover?
- Is there a waitlist?
- Do you have references (other parents who bring their kids to the day care)?
3. Select a child care center
After you carefully select a day care that makes sense for you and your family, call the day care and let them know you’d like to enroll your child. Typically, you will need to pay a registration fee and complete enrollment paperwork. Then a start date will be set.
4. Stay involved
Once your child begins, continue to monitor your satisfaction with your choice. One way to do this is to stay involved. When you’re involved, you can spend more quality time with your child but also assess and make sure you made the right child care decision.
Trust your gut. If things just aren’t working out after your child starts, you can always leave. Consistency is important for children, but not at the expense of your comfort and your child’s safety and security. Remember, children are resilient and adaptable—they can thrive in a different nurturing and safe environment.
Still have questions? Reach out to your child’s health care provider.
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