Selecting a Child Care Home or Day Care Center

Selecting Quality Infant Care
by Joan Gerard, MSW

Arranging for childcare can be a difficult and emotional process for new as well as experienced parents. When selecting infant care, it is especially important to begin the search while you are still pregnant to avoid making a rushed decision. Developing a checklist related to your family’s needs will help you in your search for the right center or home care provider. Here are some key points to consider:

Availability – Find out which centers or homes have waiting lists and when openings will occur. Quality childcare is often in short supply, and applying early will ensure a place in the center or home you feel is the best for your child. Many centers or homes require a non-refundable deposit to hold a spot.

Location – Is the location convenient for you? Consider if you want your child near home or near work. For some parents, the commute to work can be one hour or more. A center close to the work place will allow you to see your child during the day and also to continue breastfeeding if you desire. This can help to cut down on the number of hours your child will have to be in care and eliminate the isolation you may feel from your child if you work long hours.

Price – Make sure you are clear about what is included in the price. Are there any charges in addition to tuition, such as activity fees, deposits, application fees, etc.? Does the price include food or diapers? What about sick days and vacation?

Staff – Is the center or home a licensed and or accredited facility? What kind of training do the caregivers and teachers receive? How is the staff selected? What is the child-to-staff ratio? Does the staff receive benefits? What is the turnover rate for the staff? You can tell how nurturing and knowledgeable the staff is by visiting the facility and watching them interact with the children. Do the caregivers seem interested in the children as individuals? Do the caregivers comfort the children when they need it? Do they talk and listen at the child’s eye level? What do they do when two babies cry at the same time? How long do babies stay in their cribs?

Educational Philosophy – Does the center’s program match your ideas of how your child should develop? Is there a balance of quiet and active play? Are lesson plans and schedules posted in each room? What is the discipline philosophy for all ages? It is good to take a look at the programs for older children as well – your baby will be a pre-schooler before you know it!

Environment – Visit the facility. Is it clean, safe, and spacious? Is the appropriate equipment provided for learning and playing? Are small infants protected from toddlers? Are the children engaged in activities, smiling and busy? Is there enough room to play inside and out? What emergency plans are in place? Are there separate areas for sleeping? Are babies allowed to explore the environment freely? Does the center or home limit the use of swings or bouncy chairs? Is the daily routine flexible and adapted to the children’s needs? How will the staff communicate with you concerning your child and about events in the center or home?

Make an appointment with the director or home care provider to discuss all of your questions. Ask for names of parents who would be willing to talk to you about the center or home. For comparison, it is best to visit several facilities before making a decision. By taking your time and using these suggestions, you will find a setting that will meet the needs of your baby as well as your family. You can then go to work knowing that your baby is in good hands.

Editorial provided by Joan Gerard, MSW, Executive Director of Downtown Children’s Center, and the Ralston Purina Child Development Center, nationally accredited child care facilities located in downtown St. Louis, Missouri.