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Evaluating your Childcare Options

You've decided what type of care you want. How do you find the best?

by MaryP  |  5559 views  |  4 comments  |        Rate this now! 

If you have figured out whether to seek out a nanny or a daycare center, you'll know what's important to you. Having decided on the type and style care you want, you now have to pick the specific center or person.

Here are some tips to help you narrow it down:

For all styles of care, you'll want to know:

  • How the caregivers are trained, and whether they receive or pursue ongoing education or attend workshops.
  • The staff turnover for large centers and preschools (for nannies, you'll want to know how long they stay with each child; for home-care, how long the children remain with them).
  • How do they handle behavioral issues? What are their discipline strategies?
  • How do they deal with crying infants? (Infants = under a year old.) If they employ a method you're uncomfortable or unfamiliar with, this needn't immediately eliminate the venue; go and observe. Are the children happy, relaxed with their caregiver(s)? If so, are you reassured enough to place your child here, even though their style is different than yours? If not, keep looking!
  • What kind of food do they serve? Can they provide a menu? If your child has particular dietary needs, can they accommodate them? Do they support breast-feeding mothers? Can they store and feed expressed breast milk?
  • Safety issues. Can they provide a criminal background check for staff? (In some jurisdictions, this is required by law; in others, it's optional. You always have the right to request one.)
  • Think about the location. If your child will be in a large center with strict late fees, choosing a center near your workplace will make it easier to arrive on time. If you and your partner work far from each other, a daycare near the mid-point will enable either one of you to reach it. If your child screams every second in the car seat, you may prefer to have it as close to home as possible -- even if that means a tight timeline at the end of the day.
  • Do you pay weekly, monthly? Do they issue receipts? (They should!) Is there a deposit required? Are there late fees? Paid holidays? Statutory holidays? Do you pay in advance? Do rates differ for full-time, part-time, infant, or toddler care? (All this should be covered in a contract, but it's best to know up front and avoid nasty surprises.)

For Home Daycares:
  • Is there an open-door policy? Can parents drop in unannounced? (If she says "no," this should be a HUGE red flag. Yes, it's inconvenient for the caregiver, and yes, the child will likely be upset if the parent leaves without them -- but parents should have access to their children. Period.)
  • How long has she been providing care?
  • Is she monitored in any way? If there are inspections, how often and who performs them?
  • How many other children are in her care, and what are their ages? What's the maximum number of children she will accept?
  • What does a typical day look like?
  • Who else will be in house during business hours? (Arrange to meet them before you make any commitments.)
  • Any smokers in the house? If so, are there restrictions on where they smoke?
  • Does she have First Aid and CPR training? When are her certificates for renewal?
  • Does she provide a contract? If so, it home to read.
  • Ask for references (current and past clients).
  • Visually inspect sleeping areas, changing areas, play areas.
  • How will she transport the kids?
  • Any other issues of concern to you (pets, television viewing, diet, etc.).

About the Author

Mother of three (teens), step-mother of five (teens), home daycare operator of five (todders), and STILL SANE!! NOTHING is impossible...

Read more by MaryP

4 comments so far...

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    Flag as inappropriate Posted by ndks eihds on 17th June 2011

  • I discovered a cool daycare search website not too long ago. The website is

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by mommar on 14th May 2011

  • Mary, you are so very awesome. In my mind you are the standard against which all in-home care providers are judged.

    Thanks for sharing your expertise.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by anastasiav on 6th May 2008

  • I'm nowhere near this stage yet, but I absolutely love your questions. I used to work in a preschool, and then worked in a smaller daycare setting. I think this is a very exhaustive list. Perfect!

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by mamajama on 30th April 2008