7 Keys to Choosing the Right Childcare! [Infographic]

Almost 14 years ago my oldest daughter was born. Six short weeks later I went back to work. Over the next four and a half years I learned a lot about child care from the perspective of a parent working outside the home. That perspective was invaluable as I transitioned to providing child care in my home for other families over nine years ago.

Choosing child care can be nerve wracking! My husband and I had to pick new child care arrangements seven times over the four and a half years my children were in care. I know the stress and frustration that comes with making the critical decision of who will care for children while you are away from them. I know it’s not easy, however I’ve learned there are some things you can do to make the process less stressful.

Choosing a child care in 7 steps!

1 – Start early if possible! In many areas quality child care is limited and programs have a waiting list. If you have an infant or young toddler your options may be even more limited. For example, in Utah licensed Family Child Care providers can only care for 2-4 children under the age of two at one time.

I suggest expectant parents start looking for child care several months before their due date. If you are moving to a new area, put your child care search at the top of your priority list. The earlier you start your search, the more options you will have to choose from. Sometimes a quick choice is unavoidable, however I know from experience that choices made out of desperation often don’t turn out well. More on that later.

Image from clipartfest.com

2 – Consider all your options. Depending on where you live you might have a variety of options for child care. I talk about why I love Family Child Care in another post, however it is not the right option for every family. There are a variety of good options that work for families in different situations. Child Care Aware has some great information on the different types of child care available to families. Check out their page HERE.

3 – Use your local resources.  In Utah parents can contact their local Care About Childcare agency or visit the website at CareAboutChildcare.utah.gov. This website will provide a LOT of information before you even have to start calling providers.  You can see licensing history, training history, and how many quality indicators a provider has met.  Some providers post pictures and other program information as well.

Other states almost all have Child Care Resources and Referral agencies.  These agencies maintain databases of licensed childcare providers similar to Utah’s CAC website, often including information on local quality rating programs, and other resources for finding quality childcare.

Image from http://www.gacyber.org/ms-resources.html

4 – Make initial contacts by calling, emailing, or texting your list of options. The purpose of the first contact is to decide which programs are potentially worth visiting.  Ideally you will have a list of at least 10-12 options to consider, however you probably will only end up visiting a handful of the providers you contact.

Be persistent.  Childcare provider tend to be a busy bunch. I’ll get a message in the middle of the day and completely forget to call a parent back!  I know it’s not very professional and I’m working on it, however if it seems like a provider you want to talk to, keep following up! I have found often texts or emails are a little easier for my to reply to, so maybe consider contacting them in a different way.

Image from http://amorebeautifulquestion.com/einstein-questioning/

Ask a lot of questions, especially those that are deal breakers for you. Some questions to consider might include:

The Basics:

  • Do you have any openings?  If not how long is your wait list?
  • How many children do you care for and what is your child-teacher ratio?
  • What are your hours of operation?
  • Do you provide transportation (if this is needed)?
  • Can I get a copy of your family handbook (we email ours to interested families)?
  • *I ask families to read our handbook carefully before the visit so they can clarify any questions they have when we meet.
  • What are your rates?

Staff:

  • What are your qualifications? Do you and your staff participate in ongoing professional development?
  • How long have you cared for children?
  • What is your turnover rate?

Philosophy: *This is one that is often overlooked but is really important. It is hard to maintain a good working relationship with a provider who fundamentally believes in raising children differently than you do.

  • What does the daily routine look like?
  • Do you offer a preschool curriculum? What does it look like?
  • Do children watch TV or play on computers during the day?

Adjust your questions according to the type of child care that you are looking for. For example you will approach interviewing a nanny a bit differently that you will approach interviewing a family child care provider or a child care center. In any case this initial contact is an opportunity to screen providers and find out which ones are the best options for you family and worth talking to more.

5 – Schedule a visit with your top 2-3 options.  Even if I have a wonderful conversation with a parent on the phone and they are ready to enroll immediately I always suggest they visit a few other programs before they make their final decision.  There really isn’t a great substitute for an on-site visit and it will often drastically change your final decision.

You’ll notice I suggest that you schedule the first visit. Many people will tell you to do a drop in visit initially so you can see what a program is really like. I agree that drop in visits are valuable and I do suggest parents drop in sometime during this process, however I still recommend a scheduled visit. As a provider I want to make sure that I can focus on the visiting family so that I can answer their questions and make sure they get the information they need. I schedule visits at times when I have an extra teacher here.  That way I’m not trying to care for children and give a tour at the same time.

During the visit make sure to ask about any additional issues that are important to you: nutrition, opportunities for outside play and physical activity, opportunities for free play and exploration, and guidance strategies are common topics of conversation.

Outdoor Play Space at The Learning Tree

Observe and get a “feel” for the place.  Does the program seem like the type of program the provider described?  Does it feel like a place you would be comfortable leaving your children every day?

You might consider using a formal handout or checklist like this one provided by Child Care Aware MN.  Handouts such as these can provide reminders of other things you might want to look for or consider during your onsite visit.

Adjust for the type of care you are looking for. After an extensive interview , you might invite a potential nanny to spend a few hours in your home with your child as a “working interview”. A visit to a neighbors home might be more casual than a visit to a child care center.

6 – Pick the provider that feels like the right fit for your family. Make sure it’s a place you feel comfortable leaving your child. I know from experience both as a parent leaving a child and as a provider taking a child that it’s setting your family and the provider up if there’s not a certain level of trust prior to enrolling your child in a program. Do the research it takes to make sure you feel comfortable. Do a drop in visit or two. Ask more questions. Review the policies with the provider face to face.

Don’t settle for a program just because it’s the cheapest thing you could find, or the only program with an opening. It’s not fair to your children or the provider to make choices from a place a desperation. You might have to be persistent and think outside the box, but there are almost always options that will meet your families needs. While you probably won’t find a “perfect” provider, you should make sure you find someone that you and your child feel comfortable with.

Image from http://www.andrew-hines.com/2013/07/25/you-are-perfect/

7 – Stay involved and keep communication channels open! Transitioning to a new child care program can be tricky for all involved parties. It’s a big change for the child, the parents, and the group of children. If issues comes up talk to your provider! I often have parents who are hesitant to bring up concerns or questions because they don’t want to be “that parent” or seen as high needs. However if a parent has an issue I won’t be able to address it unless you ask. You have bigger problems if you can’t even talk to your childcare provider about questions or concerns.

In summary:

2 Comments

Max Jones

2017-05-10 16:48:52 Reply

I’m really glad you talked about how big of a transition a child care program can be for everyone involved. My wife has been looking for months for a child care program for our son, and I think that we’ve finally found the right one, but we want the transition to go as smoothly as possible. I’m hoping that we can be comfortable bringing up any concerns that we might have, and that we made the right choice! Thanks for your article! http://montessorisaltlakecity.com/child-care-salt-lake-city/

    joeydegraaf76@gmail.com

    2017-05-13 19:23:49 Reply

    Even if you do everything right it just takes time for everyone to adjust. Thanks for the comment!

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