Choosing The Right Child Care

Maybe you’re dreading your child’s first day in someone else’s care. Or maybe you’re excited to interview nannies or check out child care facilities. Either way, finding someone to care for your child can be stressful. Daily, about 12 million American kids under the age of five need care away from their parents. Kids’ brains grow rapidly during the early childhood years, and childhood experiences set the foundation for future learning. Thus, high-quality child care is important. The majority of families must also consider affordability and ease of access.

Here’s a hard truth: Child care can be expensive. Depending on the state, American parents with two kids spend between 20 percent to 45 percent of the median household income on child care. Here’s an even harder truth: Child care is not always exceptional. A survey conducted by the National Institute of Child Health Development in 2006 found less than 10 percent of the U.S. child care operations they investigated were high-quality, meaning they provided “a lot of positive caregiving,” including reading, singing, and teaching. They rated the majority as “fair".

However, it’s possible to find high-quality child care that provides opportunities and exploration for your child and brings relief to your family. Read on to learn about your various options and how to evaluate them. Then discover strategies to help make the transition to child care easier for your child – and you.

Plan and Prioritize

If you want to find affordable, high-quality child care, it’s best to start early. Before you begin your search, decide what’s most important to you in a child care provider. Do you most value one-on-one attention? Opportunities for socialization? Outdoor play? Healthy meals? You may not find everything you want in a provider or facility, but you’re likely to find what’s most important if you’re clear on what it is.

Next, determine how much you can afford to pay. If your family is low-income, there may be subsidies, sliding-scale programs, vouchers, tax breaks, and tax credits available to help with child-care costs. Call your department of child services to learn about the options where you live.

Child Care Options - Choosing the Right Child Care

Evaluate Your Options

Do you have a relative who’s willing to provide care? This option is favored by many American families. Relatives tend to offer affordable and flexible care and provide the attachment bond and individualized interaction shown to be advantageous for very small children. However, the option is obviously not available for all families.

In-home care, such as a nanny or au pair, offers many of the same advantages, including flexible hours, individualized attention, and the ease and security of having your child stay in the home. But be sure to calculate all of the expenses, including taxes and sick and vacation leave for the caregiver. And be prepared to take on the responsibility of being an employer. Depending on how you hire your nanny, you may need to do interviews and background checks and draw up a detailed contract that spells out your expectations and policies.

If a relative or in-home care provider isn’t right for you, it’s time to investigate day care facilities and home day cares, which usually accept children from six weeks to six years of age. They offer children the opportunity to play together and socialize, and many offer educational curricula, meals, field trips, and other perks. Ask around for recommendations and do your own tours, interviews, and evaluations.

Childcare Giver Ratio - Choosing the Right Child Care

Bring this checklist along when you tour child care facilities.

Look for these common child care dangers:

  • Cribs that don’t meet safety standards
  • Improper bedding
  • Lack of child safety gates
  • Blind cords that may present a strangulation hazard
  • Recalled products
  • Unsafe playground surfacing
  • Inadequate playground maintenance

Check to make sure:

  • The home or facility is routinely cleaned
  • Handwashing procedures are in place
  • The environment is free of smoke and pollutants

Are the Providers:

  • Educated and skilled in early childhood development?
  • Attentive and positive with the children?
  • Friendly and good at communicating with parents?
  • Planning to stay long?

Does the adult-to-child ratio meet American Academy of Pediatric recommendations for high-quality care?

  • Children aged 6 weeks to 1.5 years: three children per staff member, up to six in a group
  • Children aged 1.5 years to 2 years: four children per staff member, up to eight in a group
  • Children aged 2 to 3: seven children per staff member, up to 14 in a group
  • Children aged 4 to 5: eight children per staff member, up to 16 in a group

Questions to Ask Potential Providers:

  • Are you licensed by the state?
  • Are you accredited by any organizations?
  • What is the parent visitation policy?
  • What’s the illness policy?
  • What is the parenting style and approach to discipline?
  • Are meals provided?
  • What’s the daily schedule?
  • Do the children have time and space for unstructured play?
  • What is the educational curriculum?
  • When and where do children nap?
  • What are the potty training procedures?
  • How do caregivers communicate with parents?

Transition to Child Care

Once you’ve found the right child care, the hard part’s over, right? Not so fast. You still have to say goodbye to your child. The transition to child care can be emotional for parents and children, but these strategies can help.

Young children can sense parents’ anxiety. Soothe your own anxiety by:

  • Taking time to find the right child care.
  • Preparing the night before to avoid morning rushing.
  • Exercising, doing relaxation exercises, drinking calming tea, or using another relaxation method.

Strategies for Separation Anxiety - Choosing the Right Child Care

Enlisting someone to care for your young child is one of the most challenging parts of the early parenting years. Taking the time to find the right care makes the separation process easier for parent and child.

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