Choosing Child Care Outside Your Home
To be, or not to be … a parent whose child is in daycare?
This decision is not an easy one, especially if extended family are on hand. But child care outside the home can be a great environment for your child, as well as a relief to both working and stay-at-home parents. Daycare doesn’t necessarily mean a whole day of care. For some families, just a couple of hours might be best. For others, the whole work day might be the only option. The key to feeling comfortable with your decision is to make sure you’ve found the daycare right for you and your child.
TAKING THE DECISION
- Consider your child. Is he or she ready to be cared for outside the home? There is no right age; children can be put in daycare while still breastfeeding, or later. A good rule of thumb is if the mother feels the child is ready, then he’s fine to enroll in outside child care.
- Identify your priorities. Families use daycare for different reasons, and therefore have different priorities. You may live in a housing society with older residents, and a few hours of daycare is an opportunity for your only child to socialize with peers. Or, both parents may be working, and need a place that can care for their child the whole day. Whatever it is, know why you are taking this step before you start looking.
- Don’t feel guilty. Child care has benefits for both you and your child, and putting your son or daughter in daycare doesn’t make you a bad parent. For you, there’s the comfort and flexibility of having a reliable caregiver for your child; you don’t have to take time off work if a nanny falls ill or a family member is unavailable. Even if you’re not working, enrolling your child in daycare for a few hours can give you the freedom to spend time with friends or take up a new hobby. Your child benefits from daycare just as much: She learns to be independent, to socialize and make friends, to problem solve, to appreciate and respect differences, and to care for others. She can, of course, learn this at home, too. But daycare can broaden a child’s world.
FINDING THE RIGHT DAYCARE
- Identify your needs. These often become clear after you identify your priorities. Is it more important that your child have lots of peers? Or lots of activities and playtime? Or is it more important that the hours match your work hours, or be flexible to allow for fluctuating schedules? Once you know your needs, it makes it easier to narrow the list and know where to start.
- Ask around. Most of the time, daycares are recommended by word-of-mouth. Ask friends, family, and even pediatricians if they can recommend a good one, based on your needs. If your child is an infant, you may have limited options, but child care for young babies does exist. Ask for recommendations for both professional daycares, and the more common informal daycares run out of homes—it’s good to scout both.
- Visit the shortlist. Once you’ve narrowed your list a bit, go in person to check out the facilities and meet the staff. Find out who is in charge and if they own the business/premises. Watch what activities the kids are engaged in, how the staff treat the children, and how the children respond. Check to see if the washrooms and kitchens are sanitary and safe. Look for security and observe the safety of the grounds.
- Count the caregivers. For toddlers and babies, the ideal caregiver-to-child ratio is 3:1. For many places, this isn’t possible, so another good check is the consistency of caregiving—if a place has a high staff turnover, that’s a bad sign. Also, a staff member only counts as a caregiver if he or she has lots of direct contact with your child and is primarily responsible for his care or education. A maid or cook doesn’t really count, though some daycares will use these people to pad their ratios.
- Ask questions like it’s your business. Don’t be afraid to ask questions—after all, these are the people who are going to care for your child! You want to make sure they have your child’s best interest at heart. Be sure to question many people and many different types—daycare staff, other parents, children at the daycare, etc. That way, you have a wide-range of perspectives and you don’t run the risk of alienating someone with too many queries. Here is what to look for in child care options and questions to ask when choosing child care.
|Who is in charge?||What happens if a kid is upset? Are they allowed to call a parent?|
|What is the primary caregiver-to-child ratio?||What is the daycare’s philosophy on discipline?|
|How many kids attend the daycare? What are their ages?||What are the disciplinary actions? (Hitting should never be an acceptable answer.)|
|What are the daycare’s hours? Are those hours flexible?||Who disciplines? How? Why?|
|How are the children fed? (If by the daycare, who cooks? What kind of food?)||Are parents informed if their child has been disciplined? If so, how?|
|Is independence valued? (Are kids allowed free time? Allowed to feed themselves if old enough? Etc.)|
|What is the daycare’s play/educational philosophy?||What is the process for cleaning the toys and books available?|
|Are children kept to their own age groups?||What are the security arrangements? Are there guards? CCTV cameras on the premises?|
|What kind of toys and books are available?||What is the policy/protocol if a child is sick or injured?|
|Are there limits on TV time and access?||Are any staff certified in first aid?|
|What kind of group activities are planned?|
|Are children allowed outside?|
- Trust your gut. If a tiny voice is telling you there’s something wrong about the caregivers, space, or overall safety, listen to it; it’s not the right daycare for you. For instance, you may prefer a professional daycare to an informal, home-based one, as you can’t control who goes in and out of someone’s home. Finding the right daycare can make your life better; settling for the wrong one can make it worse.