How to Choose a Day Care Provider

"A woman's place is in the House...and in the Senate" is a popular saying that grew out of the women's movement. Besides expressing a woman's right to work at any job she is qualified for, it connotes the choices women have today. The luckiest of career women who become mothers are those who can ask three questions: Should I go back to work or be an at-home mother for a few months or years? If I decide to go back to work, when is the best time -- how long should I wait? Should I return to my old job or type of work, or should I move on to something different? Unfortunately, not every woman has these options; economic necessity frequently forces a mother's return to her job the day after whatever maternity leave she is entitled to has ended. In this article, we will examine the process of choosing a day care provider. We will talk about the day care options available to working mothers and provide sensible guidelines to choosing the right day care provider for you and your family. All of this information is contained in the following sections:

  • Day Care OptionsNo one can tell you when it is the right time to go back to work or if you should go back to work at all. We will discuss this delicate decision from both sides of the equation. We will also investigate some of the cares and concerns parents should have when finding a day care provider.
  • Out-of-Home Day Care Though it might be hard at first, sometimes sending a child away can be the best thing for the family. In this section you will learn about day care centers and what you should look for when you visit a facility. We will also tell you about day care in a private home of a family member or friend, as well as some more general day care tips.
  • In-Home Day CarePossibly the most expensive option, in-home day care does offer a great deal of convenience and peace of mind. A nanny can almost become part of the family under the right circumstances. Next, we will talk about finding a babysitter for your baby, including what information you must leave with the sitter.

So, if you're ready to tackle this complex issue, move onto our next section to begin.This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Day Care Options

A large number of women go back to work after their babies are born, but many struggle with finding the ideal time to return to the work force. Of course, the right time for one woman will probably not be the right time for another. As you make this very personal choice, you'll also be exploring day care available for your child.

Deciding When to Return to Work

If you are one of the lucky ones who can make choices, and you choose to stay home, you may find yourself having second thoughts about your decision after a few weeks of uninterrupted baby care. On the bad days when everything goes wrong, you may feel hemmed in, trapped, and angry. You may be jealous of your partner who escapes every day to the adult world.

And if you go back to work, because you want to or because you must, you may not be entirely satisfied either. First, you need to come to terms with the daily separation from your baby, then with the fact that you will almost surely miss some "firsts" -- the first time she smiles, or turns over, or says "Mama." In addition, you may be bothered by another problem common to working women. One who does not feel pressure and guilt as she tries to satisfy her responsibilities as a wife, mother, and worker is indeed a rarity, even if she is able to stay home for several months, or even years, after the baby's birth. As some have put it, she takes on three full-time jobs and tries to do all three part-time. A fragmented feeling of being needed too much, of being pulled in several directions at once, seems to go with the territory of the working mother.

Of course, many mothers go back to work very soon after their babies are born and neither they nor their babies suffer. Most are gone from home for eight to ten hours a day. A few manage to work at home, to work part-time, or to have the advantage of working under the flexible-hours provisions some forward-looking companies now offer, but every arrangement has its disadvantages.

Many of these mothers and most medical professionals recommend that you wait, if you can, until your baby is four to six months old before you return to work, for several reasons. One, of course, is the matter of your health, both physical and mental. Your recovery will probably be complete by then, and your baby's sleeping habits are likely to have become fairly well established. Proper rest, nutrition, and exercise remain essential for you, even though time for them becomes more scarce. And along with the roles of worker, partner, and parent, you should devote at least some time and attention to taking care of your own needs.

Day Care Considerations

Unless they have a spouse, relative, or friend who is willing and able to look after the infant, women who return to work or school following the birth of their baby must find a day care service. If you are in this situation, it is important to ask around for information on the various day care services available in your area.

First, consider your child's needs. Some centers may expect your child to play quietly all day; others may provide a preschool atmosphere with structured activities. Consider how many children will be together during the day; large groups may not work well for a shy, easily lost child. The point here is the ideal day care situation is different for each child. One one year old may be ready for a structured preschool-type day care center, while another may be much happier staying with a neighbor. If you must leave a baby who is only a few weeks old, you may have trouble finding a sitter or day care center that accepts responsibility for such a young baby, and charges will probably be higher than those for an older baby.

Consider your needs. What hours will you need care, and what location would be most convenient? And, of course, you must consider how much you can afford.

Breast-Feeding and Day Care

Breast-feeding can be a problem of convenience, though it is possible to have the best of both worlds -- working and nursing -- if you are adaptable and willing to experiment. Your success depends upon your working conditions, your day care arrangements, your milk supply, and other factors. The tiniest of babies can be incredibly flexible, and you may be able to nurse the baby in the evenings and on the weekends when you are at home and have the day care person feed the baby bottles of formula or your expressed breast milk. You can safely store your breast milk in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours or in the freezer for two weeks.

Making the decision to return to the work force is often difficult for mothers, but once that choice has been made, they can begin to research the day care options available to them. Selecting a day care provider that is right for a family's specific situation and resources will ensure that the transition from stay-at-home mom to working mom is smooth -- if not easy! On the next page, we'll explore out-of-home day care options, including day care centers and family day care.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Out-of-Home Day Care

   ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.  Investigate your day care options thoroughly before making a decision.
   ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.  Investigate your day care options thoroughly before making a decision.

At some point during their childhood, most children will be taken care of by someone other than their parents. As we discussed on the first page, there are several options available to families seeking day care providers. One of the more cost-effective options is out-of-home day care, which includes day care centers and day care in a private home -- or "family day care." On this page, we will provide tips on selecting the right out-of-home day care for your family.

Child Care Centers

Child care centers offer good hours and shift workers, so they can remain open from very early in the morning until evening. Because of their convenience for working parents, they often have long waiting lists, so if you are considering this option, you should begin exploring child care centers early in your pregnancy.

Your child will have playmates, and you will likely meet other working parents, making the child care center the hub of a sort of extended family. If this community aspect appeals to you, you'll want to find out whether the center does anything to encourage communication between parents.

If you're considering a child care center, ask about the training of workers and, if possible, if they are adequately compensated. A poorly trained, dissatisfied worker may not have the skills or the patience to deal well with both the demands of the children and his or her own frustrations; abuse or neglect could result. Questions you should ask include: How much employee turnover is there? Do the workers seem happy? Do they seem to respect each other? Do they interact well with the children?

Child care centers may be privately owned or operated by nonprofit groups such as parents' cooperatives (which allow parents' active involvement), educational institutions (sometimes to provide training for students), or municipalities. A licensed center is governed by regulations concerning such aspects as the ratio of caregivers to children. You can receive a copy of the exact regulations in your state from the human services agency that monitors the licensing. When you have a choice, choose a licensed center or care provider. In some states, in-home caregivers must also be licensed. You also might consider selecting a center that has obtained additional certification from an organization such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

     

Family Child Care

Child care in a private home, or family child care, provides a home atmosphere and personalized attention. Typically, a mother of a child takes several others into her home during the day. This option is usually less expensive than having a sitter in your home, and if the caregiver is really able to be with several children and still be sensitive to each child's needs, the situation is a good one. Your child will develop skills in the company of other children in a homey atmosphere, but she won't be exposed to different workers as she would be in a child care center.

If you're considering family child care, meet the person in the setting where your child would be cared for. Gear your questions to find out about the caregiver's priorities, interests, strengths, and experience with children. Give him or her pertinent information about your child's needs (medical history, diet, interests, idiosyncrasies) and your expectations. Obtain references -- the names of other families whose children stay with him or her-and check them out.

General Considerations

Gather information about each placement you are considering so you can compare hours of operation, vacancies, fees, adult-to-child ratios, and general philosophies about child care. If the center is handling very small babies, the adult-to-child ratio should ideally be one to three, but no more than one to four. If the children are between two and five years old, there should be one adult to five children.

Arrange to visit the options you find most attractive. Bring your child and go at a busy time. This way, you can check your child's response to the care-giver and watch the caregiver's style of interaction. Think about the following:

  • Is the caregiver sensitive to the needs of children of different ages?
  • How does the caregiver respond to a crisis?
  • If you're there early in the day, how does the care-giver respond to an upset child being left by his parents?
  • Does the caregiver take the time to allow the parents to express concerns?
  • Is the child given enough attention to ease the pain of separation?
  • Are children sensitively helped to make the transition from one activity to the next?
  • When you talk to the caregiver, do you feel as though you would be a member of the "team," or do you feel defensive? It's essential for you to feel the caregiver respects your relationship with your child and your feelings.

Look at the overall cleanliness of the center or home -- let your instincts give you a reading. Does the physical environment seem safe, or are detergents or medicines within easy reach, or are there such dangers as uncovered light sockets? What kinds of toys are provided? Are they safe? Do they allow for creative play and skill-building? Licensed day care facilities should be able to provide you with a written program description. If you still have questions after your visit, make a phone call or a follow-up visit.

Many parents are reluctant to expose a very young baby to the risk of infection outside the home or to take the chance of having an outsider bring disease into the house. Such fears are understandable, but do not allow them to unrealistically limit your baby's contact with people and the outside world. Germs are inevitable -- you will bring them into your house yourself and into contact with your baby.

Naturally, you will not knowingly expose your baby to someone who is suffering from a terrible cold or other communicable ailment; you can and should watch for such situations in your baby's day care environment and elsewhere. This sort of reasonable caution (which includes regular visits to the child's doctor and a regular program of immunizations and inoculations) should ensure that your baby enjoys normal health.

Once your child is placed in out-of-home day care, the only way to be sure he is safe is to make unannounced visits during the day. If there are rules against this, question the rules.

Perhaps a day care center or family day care isn't available in your area, or maybe you feel that your child would be more comfortable in her home. Whether you need full-time day care or occasional babysitting, there are other options available. On the following page, we'll explore in-home day care possibilities and tips on finding a babysitter you can be comfortable with.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

In-Home Day Care

There are many wonderful day care facilities and family day cares available for families in need of child care. However, for some families, in-home day care may make the most sense. Even for families looking for an "occasional" babysitter, the search for the right person can be exhausting and nerve-wracking.

In any case, choosing a provider that you find trustworthy will be essential to maintaining your comfort level when you're out. After all, you don't want to spend every minute away fretting about your little one's safety! Here are some guidelines to finding your ideal in home care provider:

Nanny/Mother's Helper

This option essentially means you pay a sitter to stay in your home with your child. For a small baby, this may be the easiest option, since you don't have to worry about an outside environment. This is also the most expensive option, and it doesn't always pan out as the best one. In-home caregivers often burn out and have been known to put the child in front of the television and carry on with their normal routine. Finding a person who has an emotional reason for wanting to take care of someone else's child may help; financial motivation alone does not guarantee superior care.

If you're hiring a nanny, you should have a sense that she respects your child and understands the child's needs -- and yours. Is he or she willing to structure a nap into the afternoon so your child is not cranky when you get home? Most important, what do your instincts tell you about this person? Do you think you can have a cooperative relationship? Check the references of every candidate you interview. Once you've hired a candidate, find some reason to go home unannounced during the day to get a sense of what's happening. Does your sitter run out the door as soon as you arrive home, or does he or she take the time to tell you what your child did that day, giving you the sense he or she is involved and concerned?

Finding a Babysitter

Finding that just-right, reliable person to whom you entrust the care of your precious baby for a few hours may be something of a challenge, so begin your search before the baby is born. Many mothers feel most comfortable leaving their new babies with grandmothers or other relatives, but family members are not always available. And while you know and trust them, they may be critical or make you feel as if you are imposing on them. Later, you will probably look into the availability of teenage sitters in your neighborhood (you'll find it's wonderful when you can find a family with two or more young people who like to babysit, so when one is not available, another may be).

Be sure to provide your babysitter with the following:

  • Cell phone number
  • Address and phone number of your location and of your home
  • Doctor's name and phone number
  • Emergency room phone number
  • Police department phone number
  • Poison control center phone number
  • Fire department phone number
  • Phone number of neighbor and/or relative
  • Time you will return
  • Locations of:
  • Phone(s)
  • Exits
  • Bathroom(s)
  • Food and baby supplies
  • Medication
  • Fire extinguishers
  • First aid supplies
  • Timing of feedings and any medication
  • Bedtime

Until your baby is a little older, you will probably prefer someone more experienced -- perhaps a woman who has had a baby herself -- unless you can locate a mature teenager who has some experience. Other possibilities are a college home economics department or a hospital school of nursing. A good idea when you have a young, new sitter is to arrange for a get-acquainted visit before you leave him or her alone with your baby. You might wish to have such a young person come in on a regular basis to help you with the baby.

You may also find there's a capable neighborhood woman who wants to earn a little money. Agencies that supply trained and bonded adult sitters are listed in the Yellow Pages, but their fees are higher than those charged by individual sitters.

You may not be ready yet to accept the responsibility of caring for others' babies as well as your own, so you may not want to consider making reciprocal baby care arrangements with a friend or neighbor or looking at babysitting co-ops.

Your sitter has the heavy responsibility of caring for your child, but you have a responsibility to the sitter, also. Keep this advice in mind:

  • You should be as reliable as you expect him or her to be, returning home when you say you will and paying fairly and promptly.
  • Always leave a phone number where at least one of the parents can be reached in case of an emergency. It's a good idea to leave other emergency numbers as well, such as those of a nearby neighbor and of the police and fire department.
  • Don't make your sitter guess what's to be done; leave careful instructions about feeding and caring for the baby, and tell the sitter where to find diapers, bedding and other supplies. If you have pets, give instructions about them, too.

It's also a good idea to provide the sitter with basic information about your house, such as the locations of fuse boxes or circuit breakers, flashlights and fire extinguishers, and how the smoke detector and burglar alarm work.

Adjusting to Day Care

Once you've made a day care choice, whatever it is, finalize all arrangements in writing. If you hire a caregiver, you need to draft a letter that covers your agreement with this person with regard to hours, salary, responsibilities, sick leave, and vacation. A licensed day care center has forms available. Even if you're just hiring a babysitter for the occasional night out, make sure you both understand and agree to the rules and expectations.

You need to explain all of this to your child -- what's going on, where you'll be going, who will take care of her, and that yes, you'll be coming back for her. You may need to stay with her for a while the first few days; decrease the amount of time each day. Allow a reasonable amount of time for your child to become accustomed to the arrangement. If your child seems upset at the end of the day after a reasonable settling-in period, find out why. Stay in touch with the caregiver(s) on a weekly basis, and be available to discuss any concerns the caregiver has. Try to maintain a collaborative, supportive relationship. Work together to solve any problems that may arise.

The decision to leave your child with anyone other than a close friend or relative is never easy. But the truth is, most parents will do it at one time or another. There are many options available both in and out of your home. By following some of the basic guidelines laid forth in this article, you should be able to choose a day care provider that will fit your needs. And making an informed decision about your child's care is one of the best things you can do for your little one!

To learn more information, visit the links on the next page.

©Publications International, Ltd.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

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