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5 Things to Know: Finding Day Care

When you find yourself faced with finding safe, quality day care, how do you begin?
When you find yourself faced with finding safe, quality day care, how do you begin?
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About 55 percent of mothers with infant children are working moms, according to U.S. Census stastics. And the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) reports that more than 11 million American kids under age 5 have some type of child care arrangement, averaging about 36 hours a week. So when you find yourself faced with finding safe, quality day care, how do you begin?

While many families look to grandparents and other relatives to offer care, others use child care centers, preschools and non-relative in-home or out-of-home caregivers. The possibilities may seem overwhelming but we've broken it down into five manageable steps.

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First, let's figure out what kind of care your family needs.

When considering day care, you'll first need to assess your needs. A good place to start is by asking some basic questions.

Consider things such as:

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  • How many hours a week will you need child care?
  • What can you afford?
  • Should it be close to work or close to home?
  • Do you prefer family care, an in-home caregiver (in your home or theirs) or a day care center?
  • What kind of environment would be best for your child's temperament, personality, age, social and academic needs?

By taking the time to first identify your needs and priorities you'll make the search easier for you and your family. Think of in a similar fashion to a job search - apply to the positions that are best suited for you, not the whole shebang.

Once you've identified your needs and style of care best for your family, it's time to do your homework.

One of the best resources for finding child care is word of mouth. Chat up your friends and other parents to see what they do for child care and how it works for them. In some instances, you might find that a referral can get you into a day care center quicker -- isn't it always who you know?

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Online resources and referral agencies are also helpful. The National Association of Family Child Care (NAFCC) and National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) both offer guidelines for finding accredited care, and the NAEYC has a searchable online database of accredited programs by location.

Once you've established your short list of child care options, it's time to schedule visits. Plan to visit once alone, then again with your child.

During both visits pay attention to how environment. How is the day structured, and are the activities age-appropriate? What is the adult-to-child ratio? (Typically, the smaller the ratio, the better.) What are the behavior management policies? When visiting with your child, watch how the caregiver interacts with him or her.

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Ultimately you're looking for a fit where both you and your child are comfortable, safe and healthy.

You'd never hire an employee or be hired by a company without an interview, and you should consider it an important part of your child care search as well.

Don't be shy -- it's common to request a meeting with the director and plan to meet with staff, or with the individual caregiver if that's what applies to your search. Ask questions about the setting, including everything from how vacation schedules are handled to backup care to the philosophy and policies of the center.

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It's also important to ask questions about the caregiver, teachers and staff. Here are just a few to get you started:

  • How frequent is staff turnover?
  • What kind of training and licensure do they have?
  • Is the center accredited? Accreditation sounds important -- and it is -- but don't drop a provider from your list just because it lacks accreditation. Sometimes the right fit means more.

Request references and check them, in addition to checking criminal and work history.

Even when you think you've done all your homework, navigated the obstacle course and found the perfect day care solution, you're most likely not done. What else could there be? The waiting list.

The wait for quality day care can run anywhere from weeks, to months to a timeframe longer than a pregnancy in some cases. In some cases, it depends on the age of the child. In areas with high child care demands, expect at least a six month wait. The competition is more intense for infant care.

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"For infants you really should get on a wait list, or a few, as soon as you know you're pregnant. I had a hard time finding care, and I was on three wait lists," shares Francis Duncan, a working mom in Virginia.

Keep in mind though that many parents, like Duncan, add their names to multiple lists to increase their chance of one spot opening up and drop off when they find an opening -- don't be deterred, just be patient.

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