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Expectant Parents: Choosing a Childcare Center

You've painted the nursery, stocked up on diapers, read all the parenting books, and washed and folded the baby clothes. You're ready for the birth of your baby. Or are you?

If you're planning to return to work after the birth of your baby, now is the time to start looking for quality child care. While some parents hire a caregiver in the home, and others seek the support of family members to help care for their baby, many parents enroll their infants in a childcare center.

Choosing a quality center requires careful planning and research. Take time to explore your options so you can make the best decision for your baby and family.

Experts recommend that quality childcare centers for young children include:

*A licensed and accredited program with staff well trained in child development.

*Consistent caregivers, especially for infants and toddlers who need predictable, trusted caregivers to help build their sense of security and self-esteem.

*Small groups of children with high staff-to-child ratios to ensure individualized attention.

*Responsive caregivers who value each child's unique temperament, schedule, mood and preferences.

*A positive discipline policy that is encouraging, logical and age-appropriate, without threats of harm, humiliation or intimidation.

*Culturally sensitive caregivers who support and respect each family's culture, language and values.

*Health and safety policies and procedures that include: emergency and injury procedures, adequate child supervision, and sanitary practices for feeding and diapering.

*A variety of interesting toys, books and materials appropriate for your child's age in a safe environment that encourages exploration and discovery.

*Open, respectful relationships with parents who are welcome to share feedback, observe their child at any time, and meet with his or her caregivers.

Visit various centers and observe the caregivers interacting with children. Do the staff and children seem happy? Is the atmosphere joyful? Meet with the director. Learn about their approach to caring for young children. Talk with parents and staff. Check references and credentials. Ask questions. Listen to your instincts.

Once you've selected a childcare center, allow yourself and your baby time to get to know the caregivers and the new setting. Some parents plan to return to work at the end of the week so their baby can spend a day or two in the new center and then have the weekend at home to slowly adjust to the changes.

Continue spending time at the center to observe your child's caregivers and ensure that the environment you chose is nurturing and feels right for you and your baby.

Debbie Glasser, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and founder of NewsForParents.org. She is the author of "Positive Parenting," a weekly feature of the Miami Herald.

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