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The Informed Parent

Choosing Day Care For Infants And Young Children

by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S.
Published on Aug. 06, 2001

Most parents need to use day care at some time during their children’s growing years. Recent research has revealed that nearly 60% of married women with children under the age of six are employed. The percentage of working parents increases only slightly for single parent families. With these statistics in mind, the need for excellent day care in our society is a priority.

New parents often use a caregiver or day care center recommended by a friend. Sometimes parents do a “kid swap”; one week a mother takes on the responsibility for all the children for a period of time, and the next week another mother takes the duty. Some parents start their children in preschool as an alternative to day care. Rarely is it easy to make the decision to use day care, to choose the kind of facility most beneficial to your family, or to find day care that you feel comfortable with. Disappointments may occur along the way.

When my children were young I needed to return to work. This had not been my plan, as I’d wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I wanted the best day care possible for the several hours a week that I needed to leave our home. A friend gave me the name of a woman who lived nearby. Since I wanted to see how she interacted with the children she was responsible for, I visited while children were at her home. I was thrilled. Her house was bright and sunny. She had stimulating toys both inside and out. She appeared interested in each child. The children in her care seemed happy. We agreed that I would take the girls to her for several hours the next week.

On my visit, I’d forgotten to ask Grandma, which is what the children called her, whether she put clean sheets on the crib for each child who napped. Shortly after returning home, I called to ask. She said that if I needed to ask her that question, she obviously was not the person to care for my daughters. I was taken aback and heart broken. In retrospect, her defensiveness at my question was a sign that her home probably would not have been the best place for the children. Nonetheless, beginning my search once again for excellent care seemed daunting.

In seeking day care, there are certain standards to look for. We will examine four:

Health and Safety

If you plan to use anyone other than a family member or a friend to care for your baby or young child, choose someone who is licensed. Each state has qualifications that must be met by licensed day care workers. These qualifications include safety standards and the number of children the person can care for at one time. Licensing does not guarantee quality. It only indicates that the minimum standards for licensure have been met. You can rest assured, however, that standards for cleanliness, fire safety, adequately sized in-and-outdoor play areas, and number of children served are deemed reasonable for a child’s physical well-being. Regardless of where the day care takes place, a child care provider’s facility is periodically checked to insure that standards are maintained.

The Environment

The facility should be bright and inviting. As well as being clean and meeting safety standards like you would have in your home (such as child locks on low cupboards, and fenced and gated yards), the facility should be child centered. Are there cribs for napping babies and beds with side rails for napping toddlers? Are there child-sized tables and chairs? Do floors have rugs or carpeting for protection when a child falls? Are stimulating inside and outside toys easily accessible?

The Caregiver

You need to feel at ease with the person who will be caring for your child in your absence. Is she warm and responsive to both you and your child? Does she answer all your questions and concerns openly and honestly? Does she appear to respect various family and cultural values? Is she calm and gentle? Does she discipline only positively? Does she appear to be able to meet both individual and group needs? Are age appropriate activities planned for the children? Does she encourage and provide opportunity for children to interact with each other in a positive way? Do you feel that the ratio of adults to children is adequate to meet your child’s needs?

Nuts and Bolts

Understanding the nuts and bolts of the care you choose keeps the business aspect of day care clear. You will want to know up front what the fee is. Is it hourly, daily, weekly? Will you be charged if you cancel on a given day? How much notice does the provider need for cancellation without penalty? What is the fee if you pick up your child late? What is the plan for your child if he becomes ill while at day care? Does the provider work during traditional school holiday periods, i.e. the two-week winter break in December? Do you or the caregiver provide the food for meals and snacks? How many meals/snacks are served? Are emergency cards kept on file and regularly updated? Are arrangements made if the provider is ill or unable to care for your child at any time?

Before making a final decision, you will want to visit more than one day care setting. Allow for a trial period, and plan for backup caregivers. Whether in a home or in a larger facility, day care is your child’s home away from home, and you will want to rest assured that you are making the best possible choice for your family. You will want to choose a place for your child where his physical, intellectual, social, and emotional needs are met in your absence.

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