Monday, March 18

A PARENT'S PURSUIT: FINDING A DAYCARE

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7 letters long and [quite often] the bane of my existence.

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The average child spends 10 hours a day in a daycare... let's say 80% of their daytime hours.  That's a whole heckuva lot of time to leave your child with a stranger.  So it goes without saying that finding a child care provider is incredibly important.  This is one search that shouldn't be quick or easy.  And guess what?  It's not quick.  It's not easy.  A little research goes a long way when it comes to childcare, and will provide all the right information about the places you're considering.

It's easy to get flustered, confused, or overwhelmed during the search for quality childcare.  It's easy to be overwhelmed by redundant information, or overwhelmed by too many options.  And when you're a first-time parent, how are you supposed to know what to look for and what to avoid?  I was there: a new mom, sleep-deprived, not.at.all.excited about looking for a daycare, and I was pressed for time.  Thankfully/luckily, I found a great in-home daycare that was convenient, within my price range, and at which I felt comfortable leaving my child.

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Buuuut I do know how tough the search can be... believe me.
So I've created a printable checklist to take with you when visiting a daycare center.
To view/print, click  HERE.

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In the meantime, bear with me through a pretty lengthy [but helpful!] post.

Here are some tips:

  • If possible, take your time.  If you're organized and lucky enough to have some good lead time before you actually need daycare, congratulations.  This will allow you time to do your research, make good quality visits, and really weigh the positives and negatives of each location.
  • Use a state-certified website to browse the registered providers in your area.  Consider the advantages/disadvantages of in-home daycares, group homes, and centers.

    • In-home: has an intimate, loving, family-like feel; max of 6 children (in Michigan).  Generally the least expensive option.  Could potentially be somewhat unreliable, since you have 1 individual responsible for keeping the center open (if Caregiver is sick, you may be responsible for finding backup daycare... at 6am on a workday, which is not fun; also, Caregiver may take vacation and leave you to find a backup for a week at a time).
    • Group home: a "center" setting with a more intimate feel; max of 12 children (in Michigan).  Generally reliable, since a group home is required to have more than 1 caregiver.
    • Center: a school-like setting, often very structured; max capacity varies based on staffing.  Generally the most expensive options.  Usually very reliable and rarely (if ever) closes, so you will never have to find backup daycare.
  • Ask your HR department.  Some companies will assist you in finding a daycare center, or maybe they have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that will help guide your search.  
  • Ask around.  The very best resources are referrals from other parents.  Another mom can tell you about her daycare, her sister's daycare, her boss's daycare, etc etc.  And they can give you firsthand information.
  • Get references.  Once you have contact information for a daycare, call them and ask for references.  Plural.  The more people you ask, the more likely you are to get a realistic idea of what this place is like.
  • Check state inspection reports (these can be found using the sites listed at the very bottom of this post).  You won't believe some of the violations at centers (we're talking drugs, felony charges, sex offender registries, etc).
  • Visit each location before choosing.  You won't believe what some places look like.  First impressions are very important and can make or break your decision.
  • Consider the location.  Is it on your way to/from work?  If not, how far out of the way is it?
  • Do you want somewhere closer to home, or closer to work?  There are pros and cons to both.  
    • Closer to home: convenient, and it gives you time to "decompress" on your commute to and from work.  Also, if you were to get sick and stay home from work (*knock on wood*), this makes it easier and quicker to take your child to daycare.
    • Closer to work: also convenient, and allows you to spend more time with your child (you get the "drive time" with Baby).  In my opinion, better -- you can run errands after work and still make it to daycare in time to pick Baby up.  If you occasionally work past your typical 8-5 schedule, this allows for more flexibility in pickup time (you don't have to rush to the daycare if you're running late for pickup). 
  • Do a dry run.  Drive to the location at the time you would potentially be heading there.  Traffic can be crazy at 7:30am and 5:00pm.  Consider the ease of left-hand turns.  Check out the parking situation.  These things may not seem like a big deal today, but they will most certainly be a big deal when you're running late one morning.
  • Spend time there with your child.  See how Baby responds to the staff there.  Is your child terrified of them?  Hello, giant red flag.
  • Ask for a daily schedule.  This is more important for older babies/toddlers than for infants, but each daycare should have some sort of structure or routine.  And the daycare should be able to provide this upon request.
  • Observe.  Look around and check out the cleanliness of the home or center.  As gross as it sounds, use your nose.  Does it smell like sour milk?  Sweaty socks?  Dirty diapers?  Cigarette smoke?  Fried food?  Something worse?  YUCK.  Your kid will be spending many hours there, so he/she will be coming home smelling like whatever the center smells like.  
  • Check out the safety of the location: steps, kitchen appliances, bathroom access, fire safety, etc.
  • Ask a lot of questions.  They should be used to it.  If they're not used to it, something's wrong.

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Below are some questions to ask.  
*Please note: not all questions may be relevant right now, but may be important in the future.*

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  • Hours of availability?  Get this in writing... I know of someone whose provider changed her mind and charged for being late.
  • What is the weekly/daily cost for full-time or part-time?  When is payment due, and what forms of payment are accepted?  Are there late fees?
  • Is there a sibling discount?  (Even if this doesn't apply to you now, it may in the future.)
  • What are the requirements for full-time/part-time?  Does your child need to attend a minimum of x days per week?
  • Holiday schedules: what days is the center/home closed?
  • How are vacations handled?  Do you pay if the provider goes on vacation?  Do you pay if the provider cancels due to sickness/emergency?  Do you pay if you go on vacation (some centers will allow you 1 or 2 weeks of vacation per year, where you don't have to pay while you're gone)?  If Baby is sick, and you miss a day, do you still pay?
  • For in-home daycares: if the provider should get sick, does he/she have a backup available?  Hear this: you do NOT want to be calling around for backup daycare at 6am.  And you do NOT want to have to call in sick to work because you can't find daycare.
  • What is the illness policy, and how strict is it?  What symptoms are not allowed there?  How long does a child need to be symptom-free?  Is there a certain window of time that a sick child needs to be picked up by?  Some centers have a strict 1-hour policy: for example, if your child vomits you have exactly 1 hour to pick him/her up.
  • Who administers medication? Any forms that need to be filled out?
  • How many children is the center licensed for?  What is the max they will accept?
  • How many other children are generally attending?  There should be a good balance here: you want your child to get enough socialization with other children, but you also want your child to receive enough attention from the care provider.
  • What is the caregiver-to-child ratio?
  • Will the same caregiver be with your child daily, or will it be someone random every day?  This also should be a good balance; you want your child to form a bond with his caregivers, but you also may want some variety in there.
  • Are the care providers certified in CPR/First Aid?
  • Are background checks done on the staff members and volunteers?
  • What is employee turnover like?
  • How secure is the building?  Is it easy to keep children in and others out?
  • Are children ever taken off-premises, and what is the procedure for granting permission?
  • Are there any sex offenders in the area?
  • Do you need to leave a car seat at the daycare for emergency purposes?
  • Is there any sort of video surveillance in each room?  Some centers offer this, allowing parents to see what the children are doing all day.  If there's a camera, how is security maintained?
  • Who is allowed to pick children up?  How does the provider manage pickups by someone other than Mom or Dad?
  • How are children disciplined?  (not that your child would ever need it... haha)
  • How does the center handle disagreements between children? (sharing, hitting, pushing, etc)
  • How often are toys/pacifiers washed/sanitized?
  • Are children allowed to bring toys from home?
  • How often are diapers changed?  What is the process?  Is there adequate handwashing/sanitization nearby?
  • Shoe removal: do you have to remove your shoes before entering the center?  Where are shoes removed?  Some centers require shoe removal before entering the infant area (which makes sense, since babies are crawling all over the floor).  I've heard of an in-home daycare that required shoes to be removed in the garage before entering the house; the baby had to be set down on the garage floor while shoes were removed... and in the winter, boots made this time-consuming and inconvenient, especially for a 45-second transaction inside the house.  Again, may seem silly now, but it will be a big deal someday when you're late for work.
  • Who supplies food or formula? (This will save you MUCH time and money if the daycare provides these things.)  If your child has a special diet, will the daycare accommodate, or do you have to provide special meals?
  • How does the provider handle picky eaters?  Make sure this jives with your process at home.
  • Does the center support breastfeeding?  Will they use breastmilk that you provide, or do they only use formula?  If you're a nursing mother, can you pop in during the day to feed Baby?
  • Are children taught to brush their teeth?
  • Who supplies diapers?  Who supplies wipes?
  • Do you need to supply a change of clothes every day?
  • Nap time: what is the routine here?  IS there a routine?
  • Sleeping arrangements: where do children sleep?  How far apart?  White noise?  Do you need to provide anything (i.e. pillow, crib sheet, etc.)?
  • How is potty training managed?  When do they start?  Will the center follow through with your personal system?
  • If you're religious: will the daycare provider support your family's religious beliefs (i.e. special holidays, pre-meal prayer, etc)?
  • Do the children go outdoors?  (In some states, this is a requirement, weather-permitting.)  If they do go outdoors, is there adequate shade?  Is there a fence?  What are the surroundings like?
  • TV time: how much (if any) per day?  If so, what do they watch?
  • What school district is the center located in?  Will your child be spending time with his future classmates?
  • Are any other languages spoken at the daycare?  I know of a local daycare that only speaks French to the children; some parents may be turned off by this, while other parents may think this is THE. COOLEST. THING. EVER.  (For the record, I fall in the second category.)
  • Does the center provide a daily report card of snacks/meals, diaper changes, nap times, behavior issues, etc?


So you've made your visits and asked your questions...

Once you've narrowed down the top few choices, make sure you have a second opinion.  If there's another parent in your family, make sure that parent has had a chance to make some visits and ask questions.  If you're a single parent, ask a friend or family member to go with you.  A second set of eyes and ears is always a bonus.

When you find the care provider that makes you and your little one uber-happy, give yourself a giant pat on the back, and pour yourself a glass of wine or grab a candy bar or something.  This was not an easy process, but you did it!  Then go back to the daycare center (preferably NOT after drinking the wine) and ask them for all the forms that need to be filled out.  Read each one carefully, and ask questions where needed.  Ask what paperwork you will need from your doctor (health appraisal? immunization record?), what legal paperwork you need (copy of birth certificate?).  Get a list of everything you need to provide on Baby's first day (food/bottles/sippy cups/diapers/extra clothes/pacifiers/pillow/crib sheet/etc).

Then prep yourself emotionally for what could be a very difficult drop-off.  Baby may not be happy to see you walking out the door, but that's okay.  You're doing the right thing :)  And at the end of the day, picking up Baby will be that much sweeter.  10 points for being a stellar parent!

**Side note, especially for families using in-home daycare: it may serve you well to do some extra research and find providers in your area that offer "drop-in" daycare.  Visit them ahead of time, fill out any necessary paperwork, and know their drop-in policy.  THIS WILL COME IN HANDY.  TRUST ME.**



Need additional information?  
Below are some child care resource/referral agencies, listed alaphabetically by state:

Nationwide:
National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education - provides state licensing and regulation information for all types of child care centers, by state
Child Care Aware of America

Alabama:
Child Care Resources 

Alaska:  
Thread

Arizona:  
Child Care Resource & Referral

Arkansas:  
Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education
Child Care Aware of Northwest Arkansas

California:
R&R Network
Child Care Resource Center
Children's Home Society of California
TrustLine - California's background check for in-home child care

Colorado:
Qualistar Colorado 
State of CO Facility Search
Northeast Colorado Child Care Resource & Referral
Southwest Colorado Office of Child Care Resource & Referral
Child Care Connections

Connecticut:
2-1-1 Child Care

Delaware:
CCR&R
Children & Families First

Florida:
Florida's Child Care Resource & Referral Network
Community Coordinated Care for Children (4C)

Georgia:
GACCRRA
Bright from the Start
Quality Care for Children

Hawaii:
PATCH
Daycare Resource Connection
Everything Child Care

Idaho:
IdahoSTARS
Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children
2-1-1 Idaho CareLine

Illinois:
Child Care Resource Service
Illinois Network of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies
Child Care Resource & Referral

Indiana:
Indiana Association for Child Care Resource & Referral
Paths to QUALITY
Workforce Development Services/Childcare Resource & Referral
Bona Vista

Iowa:
Iowa CCR&R
Iowa DHS

Kansas:
Child Care Aware of Kansas
The Daycare Resource Connection

Kentucky:
Kentucky Integrated Child Care System

Louisiana:
Louisiana Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies
Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services
Agenda for Children

Maine:
Child Care Choices
Child Care Connections

Maryland:
Maryland Child Care Resource Network

Massachusetts:
MA Child Care Resources
MASSResources
Child Care Resource Center
Massachusetts  CCR&R
Seven Hills Foundation

Michigan:
Child Care Resources
Michigan DHS
ChildCare TURBO

Minnesota:
Child Care Aware of Minnesota
C2R2

Mississippi:
MSCCR&R
Everything Child Care
Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative
Mississippi State Dept of Health

Missouri:
Child Care Aware of Missouri

Montana:
Child Care Resources
Dept of Public Health & Human Services

Nebraska:
Everything Child Care
Nebraska Dept of Education
Children's Environmental Health

Nevada:
The Children's Cabinet
 Everything Child Care

New Hampshire:
Child Care Aware of New Hampshire

New Jersey:
CCR&R's
NJ Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies
New Jersey Dept of Children & Families

New Mexico:
New Mexico Kids
New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Department

New York:
NY Division of Child Care Services
Child Care Council
Child Care Resource Network
NYC Child Care Resource & Referral Consortium

North Carolina:
NC Child Care Resource & Referral Council
Child Care Resources Inc.
NC Division of Child Development

North Dakota:
North Dakota Child Care Resource & Referral
Child Care Assistance Program

Ohio:
Ohio Child Care Resource & Referral Association
Ohio Department of Job & Family Services

Oklahoma:
Oklahoma Child Care Resource Referral Association
Oklahoma Dept of Human Services
Oklahoma Child Care Portfolio

Oregon:
Oregon Child Care Resource & Referral Network

Pennsylvania:
Child Care Consultants, Inc.
Child Care Information Services of Philadelphia

Rhode Island:
Rhode Island Dept of Human Services
The Daycare Resource Connection
Family Child Care Homes of Rhode Island

South Carolina:
South Carolina Dept of Social Services
South Carolina Child Care Resource & Referral Network
SCIWAY
United Way Child Care Resource & Referral

South Dakota:
South Dakota Dept of Social Services
Rural Child Care Resources


Tennessee:
Child Care Resource & Referral
Child Care Resource & Referral Tennessee Network
Tennessee Dept of Human Services

Texas:
Texas Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies
The Child Care Source

Utah:
Utah Dept of Workforce Services
Care About Childcare
Utah Valley University

Vermont:
Child Care Resource
Bright Futures
Vermont Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies
 
Virginia:
Child Care Aware of Virginia
Virginia Dept of Social Services

Washington:
Child Care Resources
Child Care Aware of Washington
Washington State Dept of Social and Health Services

Washington, DC:
DC Child Care Connections

West Virginia:
Child Care Resource Center of West Virginia
Connect Child Care Resource & Referral
West Virginia Bureau for Children & Families

Wisconsin:
Wisconsin Dept of Children & Families
Child Care Resource & Referral of Central Wisconsin
Community Coordinated Child Care Inc (4-C)
Wisconsin Child Care Information Center
Supporting Families Together Association
Wisconsin Child

Wyoming:
Wyoming Dept of Family Services - Early Childhood Division

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