Choosing a Good Daycare Center

–Debra landed her first teaching job and starts in two weeks. Her husband Robbie is elated. Now there will be two incomes instead of one. They know they can provide much more to their one-year-old daughter Stephie now, but hadn’t really had a chance to think about daycare. One big question remains: “How do we choose a good daycare center for our child?”

They sat down to talk about it.

***

Choosing a daycare isn’t as easy as it sounds. It isn’t like choosing which supermarket to go to, or which hotel to stay in on vacation. You will be entrusting your child to the care of virtual strangers, so choosing the best one is crucial.

Here are some tips to help you find the best caregivers for your child:

–Do Your Homework—Don’t just drop your child off at the closest or cheapest place around. Ask parents, research online, or visit each one to see what the cost is and what they offer you and your child. Check credentials. Compare. Most reputable daycare professionals welcome questions.

Speak up. A childcare center may have a license, but that doesn’t mean the quality of care will meet your standards and expectations.

Follow your instincts. You have the last word. If a center doesn’t feel right, don’t agree to let your child attend. If you aren’t satisfied with what you see and hear and feel, look elsewhere.

–Check Backgrounds: What credentials do the professionals have? Do they like children? How do other children and parents react to them? Have there been citations? Do any of the employees have a criminal record that has gone unchecked or unreported? Does staff have adequate training?

–Tour The Facility: Is it clean, do children seem to have fun? Does it offer a balance of play and structured activities? What is the adult-to-child ratio? Do all of the caregivers seem attentive, friendly, and genuine to the children and parents? Does the center allow walk-ins and surprise visits by parents and families? Is the staff trained in first aid, emergency procedures, evacuation? Does the center meet safety codes? Are there clean, safe areas for the children to nap? What is the history of sickness or illnesses of the children attending? Is the building child-proofed? What kind of food do they serve?

–Interview Staff: This may be the most important conversation you will have when looking for the right childcare center. Are the professionals accepting and tolerant of your lifestyle, culture, and beliefs? Does staff know the names of children and their parents? Does staff do more than just keep an eye on kids—do they talk to the children, play with the children, and engage them in stimulating games or activities? Do they keep abreast of the latest training and education in the field of childcare and child development? Do they provide professional and character references when asked?

Once you decide which daycare is best for your child, you will want to be diligent about monitoring your child’s stay at the center, regardless of the age of the child, but especially babies and toddlers too young to tell you if something goes wrong at the center.

Make unannounced visits and phone calls to the facility. Talk to staff members and other parents about your child’s stay there. Other parents may see something amiss with your child when they pick up theirs, so networking with other parents is a good way to keep check on your child’s time there. If you suspect that your child, or another child, has been abused by someone at the daycare center, don’t hesitate to make a good-faith report to child protective services or the police. If it’s an error, it’s better to err on the side of the child than a possible abuser.

There are thousands of good daycare centers in the country. Most people who operate them love children, want to nurture them, and will play a vital, positive role in the life of your child. But remember: You are the one ultimately in control. If you don’t like a childcare center, remove your child from it and find one that is more suitable.


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