Whether you’re considering in-home care, center-based care, or care from a family member, you’re probably at a point in the childcare search where you’re a little closer to deciding on a childcare option. Now it’s time to ask questions that can help you determine if your choice will be a good fit for you and your family. Namely, you’re trying to figure out whether Baby will be safe, happy, and healthy in this place and with this person when you’re not around.
The strategy you use to determine if you’ve found a good fit will be slightly different, depending on what kind of care you’re considering.
If you’re considering a daycare center
Parents looking at daycare centers as their main source of childcare have an opportunity that parents interviewing nannies do not. Daycares usually offer parents the chance to look in on a class and see what it’s like while it’s in progress. If you do this, check the ratio of caregivers to children. Centers give parents official numbers, but getting to look at those numbers in action can make a big difference in how you end up feeling about them.
Also check to see if the daycare center is certified, which means it’s required to meet certain standards. In some states, daycare and childcare centers that are affiliated with religious institutions aren’t required to meet certification standards. This doesn’t mean that centers affiliated with religious institutions can’t be great choices for your family, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Other good questions to ask when visiting a daycare center include:
- What does an infant’s day here generally look like? What about an older baby or a toddler?
- Where does naptime happen?
- How big are class sizes, and how wide a range of different ages are in one class?
- How flexible is the schedule, and do you charge extra for late pick-up?
- What is your holiday schedule?
- Can I see your license, and any other certification you might have, including CPR or first aid?
- Can I talk to a current parent?
If you’re considering an individual care provider
When you’re talking to a nanny or another individual care provider, you probably won’t have the option to watch them interact with other children on the job. In this case, testimonials are generally the next-best thing.
Getting referrals from friends, relatives, or coworkers is a great way to get a sense of what they might be like. You can also ask for references from former employers as a way of getting a sense of how other families have felt about a care provider.
Good questions to ask during the interview process include:
- How do you communicate with parents, and how would you like to handle feedback as we figure out the best way to collaborate on taking care of Baby?
- Do you feed on demand, or follow a schedule? How strictly do you follow napping schedules?
- How do you care for sick children? How often were you sick in your last job?
- What emergencies have you experienced with a child and what emergency training do you have?
- What’s your overall philosophy about childcare?
If you’re considering a family member
This option is growing more and more popular amongst American families. It can be a great choice as it is usually cost-free, or at least less expensive than other childcare options, and it feels safe to parents. However, this option does come with challenges that need to be considered.
Some questions that parents need to ask themselves when setting up this sort of arrangement are as follows:
- Can your parent/sister/etc. commit to caring for your child XX days a week, XX days a year?
- Where will the care happen – in your house or in theirs?
- How will you handle differences in childcare approaches (i.e. screen time, keeping a child on a schedule, etc.)?
Once you’ve decided on something, how will you know if it’s not working?
Keep an eye out for these signs that your childcare choice might not be working for you.
- Dropping by unexpectedly and noticing that the caregiver-child ratio is lower than you’d been told.
- A center that introduces discipline and punishment concepts to children too young to understand them, like babies and very young toddlers.
- A hazardous or unsafe environment.
- Babies put to sleep in car seats, a shortage of napping space, or babies who are put down to nap in any way other than on their backs, alone, on a firm crib-mattress with no bedding besides a tightly-fitted sheet.
- Sick children being cared for in the childcare center, instead of being sent home.
- TV-watching for young children, or a lack of chances to explore safely and play in educational ways.
- If you feel uncomfortable dropping your child off there. It’s hard for many parents to start dropping young children off at childcare, but if that uneasy feeling sticks around or gets worse, it may be a sign that the childcare set-up you have isn’t the right fit for your family.
When deciding on a childcare provider, do as much research as you can and don’t be afraid to ask questions or request to speak with another parent who can give you a realistic view of the option that you’re considering. Pay attention to your gut feelings, and make sure to secure a backup plan.
Finally, remember that childcare is an investment and it’s one of the most important components of your return to work. Once you have a solid childcare plan and back-up plan in place, all other parts of your work re-entry following maternity leave can enjoy that much more stability. It’s likely worth paying a little extra money for quality childcare, if you can afford it, just so that you can have peace of mind about how Baby is doing while you’re at work. As a working parent, you’ll soon learn that you can’t put a price tag on peace of mind.