TAMPA - "Finding someone to care for your child is probably one of the most difficult decisions that a parent makes," said Angie's List founder, Angie Hicks. "You want to make sure that you've got your child in a loving, safe environment. But in a recent Angie's List poll, 20 percent of the respondents didn't even check whether their child care provider was licensed or had the proper credentials and that is something you must do."
The first step is deciding which of the common choices for child care is right for you.
- Day care centers: There are many choices for day care centers, including privately owned for-profit centers, church-supported programs and nonprofit community centers. Each type is unique in its own way. Parents must determine what works best for their family when deciding on care.
- In-home care: Many individuals offer day care in their homes. Some parents prefer the casual setting and the fact that home care often features fewer children.
- Nannies and au pairs: If they can afford it, parents may prefer having caregivers come to their own home. Nannies generally arrive at work daily, while au pairs live with the family. Au pairs usually provide child care and light housekeeping in exchange for room, board and a cultural experience.
"You need to start your search for child care much earlier than you probably even imagine," said Hicks. "About the time that you're telling all your family members that you are expecting is really when you should start looking for child care because there's likely going to be a wait list. You also need to be prepared that you're probably going to have to give a deposit as well so just know exactly what you have to do, but starting early is going to alleviate the stress down the road."
10 tips to help streamline your child care decision-making:
- Start early. Some of the best child care providers also have the longest waiting lists. It's best to begin your search well ahead of time.
- Weigh your options. The type of child care you want should be the first decision you make. Child care centers, in-home providers and family care providers offer a range of services. It's important to determine what will work best for you and your child.
- Make a wish list. Before you begin your search, list your expectations and preferences. Update or delete from this list as your perceptions change.
- Know your budget and what value and benefit your child will receive from the care selected. Child care costs can be staggering, so consider your options and your budget carefully.
- Visit the facility. Consider bringing your child with you to observe his or her interaction with the provider.
- License, please. Know your state's licensing regulations and check that the provider qualifies with no history of violations. Find out whether the provider has accreditation from a respected authority. Providers that are accredited have met voluntary standards for child care that are higher than most state licensing requirements.
- Safety first. And always make sure providers are certified in CPR and first aid.
- Check references. Get at least three references, and be sure to review them carefully. If you see parents on-site, ask them about their experiences with the provider.
- Don't settle. Even if your search gets exhausting, don't settle on a provider until you are positively satisfied.
- Find a backup in case your provider gets ill or for some other reason can't care for your child. This is especially important for family child care and in-home providers such as nannies, au pairs and baby sitters.
Angie's List Tips: Questions parents should ask
- What is the adult to child ratio? The fewer children for each adult, the better. Many states have laws governing the maximum number of children per caregiver.
- What are the caregiver's qualifications? Ask about licensing, ongoing training and education.
- What's the turnover in staff/teacher positions? Caregivers who come and go make it hard on your child.
- Are they accredited? If not, ask why.
- How do they discipline the children? Make sure it's consistent with your methods.
- Are they CPR certified? If yes, what was the date of the last certification?
- Has everyone had a background check?
- What would happen in case of an emergency?
Angie's List: What to look for when touring a facility
• Watch for obvious signs that an establishment is safe and comfortable for children. Look for potential hazards or signs of poor cleaning habits.
• Observe children's overall mood and temperament. Do they seem happy and engaged? Are they being watched or ignored?
• Notice caregivers' appearance and attitude. Do they dress and act appropriately around children? Are they afraid to crawl on the floor and get their hands dirty?
Once you have chosen the daycare facility that best suits the needs of your child – stay involved! Parents need to constantly assess the child care arrangement. Spend a few minutes each day to talk with the
caregiver about your child and ask your child what he or she does during the day. And drop in every once in a while to assess if the facility still meets your expectations and participate in activities.