Choosing Child Care

Choosing Child Care
by Susie Redfern

Any parent looking for day care wants it to be high quality, convenient and affordable. In the process of looking for such care, parents will likely have questions on how to go about it. This article will address some of these questions and concerns.

What types of day care are there?
There are three types of day care: day care centers, day care family homes, and in-home care. Day care (or child-care) centers operate from a building specifically designed (or renovated) to provide child care. Day care homes operate from the provider’s home. In-home care is provided in the parent’s home, either by a relative or friend, or by a professional group such as a nanny service.

What about licensing and accreditation?
Licensing is government regulation of centers and many day care homes. Licensing standards cover capacity (how many children overall can be cared for); group size (total number of children of a given age in one classroom for centers, and in the home for day care homes); child-staff ratio (number of children to one caregiver, varies by age); teacher training/qualifications, and a variety of nutrition/health and safety issues. Generally, a licensing representative will inspect the center prior to its opening, and at regular intervals (usually annually) thereafter. Licensing representatives can come unannounced. They also check on centers about which they have received a complaint within a specified period of time depending on the nature of the complaint.

Accreditation is a voluntary process, usually offered by a professional organization. One such program is that of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). A center participating in this program pays a fee to receive a packet of self-evaluation materials. They complete the self-study with input from the director, teachers, parents, and community. They may make changes to their curriculum and other matters to meet the NAEYC criteria. If they choose to continue the process, they apply for accreditation, pay another fee (varies according to the number of children cared for at the center), and are visited by one or more "validators" from the NAEYC, who assess the center, and either approve or deny its application. Generally, those who don’t receive accreditation can correct the deficiencies the NAEYC validator identifies, and reapply later. Approximately 5% of centers hold NAEYC accreditation.

What kind of quality should I expect?
At the very minimum, centers and homes must meet all licensing standards. Centers that are accredited meet the standards of the accrediting agency as well. Here are a few things to look for when visiting a center or home in which you are considering enrolling your child.

Safety: Are electrical outlets covered? Are all toys in good condition and appropriate to the ages of the children using them? Do cribs and playpens meet safety standards?

Supervision: Are caregivers focused on the children at all times? Do they interact with the children in a positive manner? What are their discipline policies?

Curriculum/Parent Involvement: What activities are planned for the group? What provisions are made for my child’s individual needs and interests? How does the provider communicate to me about what’s going on with my child? Does the center or home have an "open door" policy where I can visit at any time without making prior arrangements?

How do I locate child care in the first place?
Most areas are served by Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies. These organizations provide child care referral to parents who call, enhanced referral services to companies with whom they have contracts, and technical support to providers (both centers and homes). Some large employers provide child care on-site, usually through contract with a child care provider. You can also find child care through phone listings and word of mouth from neighbors, friends, and relatives. Child care for infants and toddlers is the hardest to find (and the most expensive). Starting the search soon after a pregnancy is confirmed (or several months in advance for an older child) is a good idea, since waiting lists of months are common.

My income is rather limited. How do I pay for child care?
Some providers participate in subsidized care programs. The local DCFS Office of Child Development has information on these programs, and how to apply for assistance.

Finding the best child care provider for your needs can be difficult and time-consuming, but is possible. Allow yourself plenty of time to visit facilities (both with and without your child) or interview potential caregivers in your home. Look for the best possible fit in terms of hours, ages, location, as well as curriculum and discipline policies. Best of luck!

Editorial provided by Susie Redfern of ParentLink in Illinois.