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Insider Tips: Finding Quality Family Day Care and Day Care Centers
By Stacy DeBroff

DAY CARE CENTER
A day care center is an organization that provides child care for a larger group of children in an institutional setting, whether at a nursery school, church, temple, school, or office building. The age of children at a center ranges from a few weeks old to school age. Your state is in charge of licensing these centers and controls standards for everything from facilities to staff-to-child ratios to training for care providers. Many child care centers have an organized program of activities to help children learn. Some centers follow formal plans, while others rely on a more informal program based on their day-to-day experience working with children.

ADVANTAGES:

~ Except for extremely bad weather, day care centers have enough staff to stay open even when one care provider is ill or takes a vacation.
~ Most offer the convenience of early drop off and late pick up.
~ The staff are more likely to be professionally trained and receive ongoing training and certification.
~ The highly structured environment prepares your child for preschool and kindergarten.
~ More than one caregiver is present at all times.
~ Care providers are supervised, both by the director of the program, and the constant flow of parents coming and going or volunteering during the days.
~ Your child has ample opportunity to socialize with adults and the other children her own age.
~ Your child may benefit best from center-based care if you want to keep your child in the same child care setting for an extended period, if your child needs special care because of a special need, or if you want certain educational or religious activities for your child.
~ You have an opportunity to get to know working mothers with children the same age as your child.
~You have a network of other parents for pick-ups and emergency situations.

DRAWBACKS:
~ You must adhere to the center's schedule, so you have fewer options for part-time coverage, and often late pick-up or early drop off costs extra.
~ There can be high turnover of staff and children.
~High provider to children ratios mean less individual attention may be paid to your child than you'd prefer.
~ Your child may get sick more often because of exposure to so many other children, and you have to find alternative care if your child is sick.
~ Nobody is in your house every day to help with chores.
~ Center-based care may not provide the "home" atmosphere some children like.
~ Your child may not be comfortable in a large group for a major part of each day.

SELECTING A PROVIDER:

FINDING LOCAL OPTIONS
~ In addition to asking friends for recommendations, have your state's child care providers' licensing bureau send you a list of all licensed family day care and in-home day care providers in your neighborhood.
~ Local churches and temples often have long-standing nursery school programs.
~ Ask your pediatrician or other health professionals about day care centers they recommend.
~ Use Resource and Referral agencies to get information about child care centers and homes in your area.
~ Local yellow pages list sources under Child Care, Pre-School, Nursery Schools, Nanny Services, Au Pair Services, or Schools.

TELEPHONE OR E-MAIL SCREENING:
~ Ask if there is an opening for your child.
~ If there is a waiting list, ask how many children are on it.
~ Find out if the day care center has a religious, educational, or other affiliation.
~ Discuss the professional background of the provider.
~ Ask what hours and days it is open and how much flexibility they allow in drop off and pick up times.
~ Find out the fees, and what is other costs are involved, such as meals, outings, and late pick up or early drop off.
~ Ask what procedure they use to screen employees.
~Ask about the number and ages of children at the location.
~ Make an appointment to come in to meet the family day care provider, or to see the day care center and meet the director.

INTERVIEW QUESTIONS:
~ What are your fees, and what do they include?
~ Do you offer, and what are your charges for, early drop-off and late pick-up?
~ Can I enroll my child part-time?
Daily Schedule and Activities
~ What would a typical day be like for my child?
~ How much time do infants spend in the crib or play pen? Do you use walkers? Do you hold infants during feeding?
~ What health precautions do you take, such as hand-washing and dealing with contagious illnesses?
~ Do you take the children outside to play or for walks every day?
~ What's your policy about naps or a child who's tired?
~ What discipline techniques do you use?
~ How do you handle toilet training?

Other Children:
~ Are similarly-aged children grouped together? How many children are in each room? (You don't want a four-year-old in the same areas as infants or toddlers-their care, interests, and abilities are completely different.)
~ How many are enrolled full-time? Part-time?

Day Care Center Staff:
~ What has staff turnover been over the past two years?
~ Will my child have a primary caregiver, or will several different people care for her?
~ What's the background of the director, caregivers, and aides?
Visits
~ Can I visit unannounced?
~ Do you welcome parent involvement? How so?
~ What kind of daily feedback will I receive?
Miscellaneous
~ How do you respond to a child who has difficulty separating from a parent or adjusting to your care?
~ What do caregivers do when the children nap?
~ Are all the children you care for up to date with their immunizations?
~ Do you carry liability insurance?
~ Do you have questions about my child and family?
~ Can you give me the names of three families I could call for references?

FAMILY DAY CARE PROVIDER
An Ideal Provider:
~ Makes children feel welcome when they arrive
~ Answers questions in a friendly, open way
~ Seems to be someone with whom you can develop a relationship
~ Seems to feel good about herself and the job
~ Provides a routine and rules the children can understand and follow
~ Is a person you would like your child to copy or imitate
~ Accommodates the special needs of your child
~ Pays more attention to your child than to you
~ Asks children lots of questions and answers their questions patiently
~ Encourages children to express themselves through words and language
~ Provides individual attention to a child when needed, such as holding an upset child
~ Uses the children's first names or nicknames when talking to or about them. She does not call the children names like "brat"
~ Lets children to explore and do some things for themselves, such as washing their hands or putting away a toy, but knows when to step inwhen help is needed
~ Responds quickly to children's needs
~ Talks to infants, cuddles, and plays with them during the day, not leaving them alone for long periods
~ Praises children for doing things like sharing, comforting each other, and helping
~ Encourages good health habits, such as washing hands before eating and after going to the bathroom
~ Helps your child learn to get along with and to respect other people, no matter what their backgrounds are
~ Respects your family's language, culture, and values

Warning Signs:
~ The caregiver uses a lot of negative language, like "don't," and punishments.
~ The caregiver disciplines children by spanking, shouting, putting children by themselves for a long time, or withholding food.
~ Children are made to wait for long periods of time before the caregiver acknowledges them or answers a question.

Additional interview questions:
Personal and Background
~ How long have you cared for children?
~ Do you have children of your own?
~ What are their ages and genders?
~ Do you care for them during the day?
~ Are there other adults in your home during the day, such as a helper or a spouse, and if so can you please tell me about each of them?
~ How does your family support your running a family day care?
~ Do you have any pets? Where are they kept during the day?
~ How much TV do you allow the children to watch during the day, and what types of programs?
~ Have you ever had a disagreement with a parent about child rearing, and how did you handle it?
~ Have you ever had an emergency involving one of the children you care for? What happened?
~ What meals and snacks do you feed the children each week? What do you do if my child refuses to eat a certain food?

Costs and Policies
~ Do I have to pay for days when you are ill or on vacation?

Licensing and Accreditation
~ Are you licensed or accredited? If so by who and for how long?
~ Do you belong to a day care association or group of providers that offers you support or back-up child care coverage?
~ What training have you received? CPR? First Aid?
~ Ask for a recent copy of her driving record and driver's license if she may ever drive your child somewhere, such as on a field trip, to pickher kids up from school, or to the park.

CHECKING OUT A FACILITY:

~ Visit the child care places you are considering when other children are there, and ask yourself if you would enjoy spending time there. You will feel much better about leaving your children when you know that they will receive good quality care and positive learning experiences, in a place where they feel happy, loved, and safe.
~ Come early enough to see kids being dropped off by their parents. Observe whether the children are happy to go in, and if the parents seem like people with whom you think you'd be compatible.
~ Watch children playing outside so you can see how closely they are supervised. The children should appear happy, comfortable, and relaxed.
~ Look for a facility that encourages both active and quiet play.
~ Look for a provider who freely dispenses hugs, comfort, warm words, smiles, and gets down on the children's level to speak or play with them.
~ Observe how the provider fields discipline issues, the tone of voice she uses, and how the children respond.
~ Think about whether the arrangement seems to be the right match given your child's temperament.
What to Look for in Facilities & Program Materials
~ A well-lit, cheery, clean environment
~ Lots of toys, games, and art supplies, including a variety of toys for riding and pulling, beads, puzzles, blocks of different sizes, and small building toys
~ Creative art materials, such as crayons, paper, glue, clay, or play dough
~ Attractive and well-written story and picture books
~ Enough space for children to move around freely
~ A quiet area that can be darkened for naps, with and bedding for each child
~ A safe outdoor play space
~ Easily-accessible toilets
~ A place for your child to store personal belongings
~ Activities that encourage listening and talking, such as storytelling, word games, or doll play

Safety & Childproofing:
~ Childproofing should be up to your standards, including safety gates, drawer locks, covered radiators, and window locks.
~ Make sure there's an alternate exit in case of fire, a first aid kit, a fire extinguisher, and smoke detectors.
~ Ask what security precautions the center takes to make sure that only authorized people can pick up your child.
Cleanliness & Illness
~ Do you wash your hands each time you change a diaper?
~ What sterilization procedures do you use for toys, changing areas, and bedding?
~ Will you be notified immediately when a child at day care has a communicable diseases or virus (i.e. chicken pox, lice, stomach flu)?

REFERENCES:

~ When speaking with other family's who have used the family day care provider or day care center, ask them for details about how the situation has worked for their child, what the atmosphere at day care tends to be like, and about the personalities of the care providers or director.
~ In addition, ask about the community of families whose children attend, the degree of turnover in children or providers the program has undergone while they've been there, and whether there is any important background information about the provider or center which the references think it important for you to know.
~ See the reference questions for a nanny for additional questions to ask families with whom you speak.


Stacy DeBroff is author of "The Mom Book, 4,278 Tips for Moms!" and founder of www.momcentral.com

 

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