Shopping for Child Care
All parents who utilize non-family childcare have a wishlist of things they want for their child's school. Lots of one-on-one time, state-of-the-art facility, inviting, well-trained teachers, budget-friendly tuition to name just a few. There are many things to take into consideration when choosing child care. This time of year, while child care facilities are opening enrollment for the summer and fall semester, it is the time to think about what your family needs and what is available in your community. Here are some ideas of things to keep in mind when looking for child care:
What type of care do you want?
Are you interested in a daycare facility or a private home? Is state licensure important to you? Can you get the class size or teacher:student ratio you want within your budget? Is location or quality more important? Would you prefer a non-profit center instead of a for-profit one? While at first thought these may seem like simple questions, sometimes the reality doesn't quite fit with our wishlist. Asking the right questions when shopping for childcare can be the difference between ending up somewhere you dislike and finding a great fit.
Are they open when you need care?
Some facilities are only open during the school year or are closed whenever the local school district is out of school (i.e., Spring Break, Winter Break, etc.). You may have heard wonderful things about a facility, but if they are closed when you need care, you may end up in a situation where you have to find alternative care such as a babysitter more often than is feasible or it may cause more stress than necessary. For example, many pre-K, parents' day out, and part-time programs close during the summer, so if you do not have a break during the summer, these programs may not be a good fit.
Also ask about hours they are open each day. If you need to be at work at 7 but the facility doesn't open until then, it may cause stress that another facility could help alleviate because they are open slightly earlier.
Are they conveniently located?
Although this seems secondary or like it may not matter at all, finding a childcare situation near to your home or work can save time and stress. If you live in a very small community or you have few high quality options, this may be a moot point; however, if you live in a large community, you commute, or you have lots of options, the location of the facility can be very important. If you choose a facility that is far from home, adds time to your commute each day, or is far out of your way, you may end up having unforeseen problems such as getting to your child quickly should they become ill, being late to work in the morning, or late to pick up your child in the afternoon.
What training does the staff receive?
In the State of Arkansas, staff in licensed child care facilities are required to earn no fewer than 15 hours of job-relevant training each year to maintain employment. Some facilities require more, and if the facility is not licensed, they may not require as much or any. The teachers in charge of your child should be trained in CPR and first aid as well as child development and other topics relevant to their work. Be sure to ask the director what is required.
Are meals provided?
Some facilities provide meals and snacks for the children in their care, and others require parents to bring lunches and snacks. Both options can be fantastic depending on your needs and the facility's resources. If the facility provides meals, request a copy of the menu or a sample list of meals. If you are required to provide food, ask what guidelines you are expected to follow. Although you may be providing the food, most facilities still have regulations about what food is appropriate or acceptable such as no peanut butter, each child must bring a fruit and vegetable in their lunch, appropriate portion sizes, or if you must provide a drink.
Is there a waiting list, or is immediate care available?
It is important to understand that many high quality facilities have a long waiting list, especially if there is a shortage of high quality care in your area for your desired age group. For example, many places have immediate openings for pre-K 4-year-olds because there are so many options available for that age group including school-based or Head Start, but someone looking for care for a newborn many have been on a waiting list from the time they found out they were expecting. Infant and toddler care, in particular, can be difficult to find on short notice. Be sure to call around, and bear in mind that many facilities require a fee in order to be placed on their waiting list. Some offer refunds if you remove yourself from the list or care is not available when you need it, but many do not.
When visiting a facility, here are some things to consider:
Do you feel comfortable?
Does the facility have a good feel? Are you at ease? Is the facility clean and inviting? Does it seem secure? Does the staff seem at ease or are they more stressed than seems normal?
Is the staff welcoming while focusing primarily on the children?
While you do want to be acknowledged by staff while touring a facility, it is more important that they take care of their children. If they stop to talk to you while ignoring their class or they seem distracted or otherwise lack engagement with their children, it should be a red flag.
Do the children there seem happy and engaged?
Are the children present happy to be there? It is a great measure of a facility or program if the kids are at ease and engaged in play or other activities. If the children, in general, seem lethargic, upset, or exhibit other negative behaviors, it may be a problem.
Is there a safe, outdoor play area?
Is there somewhere on the property that the children can play safely outside? Is the area fenced and shaded? Is the equipment in good repair?
Are the classrooms organized and clean (this is not the same as tidy...especially if children are present)?
Do the classrooms seem to be primarily set up for the convenience of the teacher or the children? Materials in classrooms should be accessible to the children, and things like cleaning supplies, purses, medications, first aid kits, etc. should be out of children's reach.
Finally, how would you feel about dropping your child off each day?
If you do not feel at ease with the possibility of leaving your child in the facility, it is best to move on to another option. No situation is perfect, but shop around to find one that works best for you and your family.
Although this is certainly not an exhaustive list, it may offer a few things you have not considered. Extension offers a longer, printable Choosing Child Care Checklist here or through your County Extension Agent! The goal is to find a place where your child can thrive while they are away from you. It can be difficult to find the perfect place, but the decision you make is one of the most important you will ever make as a parent.