Choosing who you are going to entrust with caring for your new baby is a huge decision. I have worked for many years in and around child care (both teaching and conducting higher-education research on early childcare), so when I became pregnant for the first time I knew one of the first major choices I would have to make is who would take care of my new baby when I went back to work. There are a lot of different options out there ranging from in-home child care to relatives to child care facilities. I am a planner, so I wanted to get my plan set early, but I also wanted to make sure that my husband and I were both comfortable with the decision that we were going to make. After some discussion, we decided that we were most interested in a combination of a child care center and relatives (thanks Nana and Papa).
Given our experience, we had a lot of questions for perspective child care facilities. What works for one family won’t necessarily work for another, but here are some of the ideas and resources that helped us to make our decision. Some of these might be helpful to evaluate in-in home child care as well, but our focus was really on child care centers.
- Start early and ask for recommendations: One of the first things we did was ask people around us where their children went and what they thought of it (likes and dislikes). We also asked if they knew of other child care centers in the area and what they had heard about them. We were newer to the city we live in, so we asked friends at work and got some good feedback. This gave us a good jumping off point. We also looked at local resources to find a list of child care facilities in the area. We were glad we started early, because this whole process took a while.
- Do your research: Most child care centers have websites that allow you to look at some of the basic information. Is it going to be feasible/convenient for us to drop off and pick up given our schedules and the location? Do they have a mission statement that fits with our views? Do they provide care for the age we are looking for? The state of Wisconsin has instituted the YoungStar system. You can search for child care centers here, and see their review history and corresponding rating. This is an excellent resource! Keep in mind, the “violations” could be for minor things, like having the wrong type of garbage can for diapers, or it could be for major things, like children being unsupervised, so take it with a grain of salt. What tends to be most important is if they only have minor issues, did they work to address them before the next year (you could even ask about how they addressed the violations if you visit the center).
- Visit! We then set up appointments to visit the centers we were interested in. Before you go, think about what you are going to ask and what you are going to look for. Given my background in child care research, I used one of the tools that I had used when I was a research assistant in addition to my own list of questions. Here are a couple of sources that might be helpful:
- This report contains the Positive Caregiving Checklist and a brief description of how to use it starting on page 40: https://www1.nichd.nih.gov/publications/pubs/documents/seccyd_06.pdf This can be helpful for assessing the more qualitative elements of interactions between caregivers and children.
- I also had a list of questions that I would ask center directors when we would visit if I was unable to find the answer on their website. Here is a sampling:
- What is your policy/views on parents stopping in and visiting? (To me this is a big red flag if they won’t let me drop in whenever I want.)
- Is there an individual owner or is this center part of a chain?
- What discipline policy is used and for what ages?
- What is the daily schedule/programing?
- What type of accreditation?
- What is the education level of the teachers? What continued training do they get? What is the turnover rate?
- How and how often do teachers communicate with parents?
- What food is provided? How is pumped milk handled?
- When do children move classrooms?
- What is the cell phone policy for staff members? How are staff members monitored?
- Field trips? What ages?
- Is there bus transportation for elementary school children?
- I also asked specific questions of different centers if I found information on their website that I needed clarified.
- Go with your gut: If after visiting, if my spouse or I felt uneasy, it was deleted from our list. There are a million different ways to run a child care center, but if it makes you feel uneasy, you won’t be happy and going back to work will be so much harder.
We ended up finding a child care center that we love and that works for us. Have I loved every choice that the center has made in the five years my kids have been going? No, but they are very open and often ask for parents opinions, and they make noticeable changes when they can when we have suggested changes. To me, that is really important. Even though this was a difficult process, and it will always be difficult for me to trust others with the care of my children, I am happy with the decision that we made.