6 Must-Dos When Choosing Childcare

As a father of four, I can say that picking daycare can be a very daunting task. Here are a few things to keep in mind based on my experience as both a parent and the husband of a childcare provider.

happy children at preschool
1. Check the daycare provider’s license and operating credentials.

You can look up licensing requirements for individual states on the Department of Health and Human Services Website. From there, you can contact your state’s agency for information on monitoring and licensing regulations, and to see if they have a list of licensed providers in your area. Choosing a licensed provider helps ensure your child is in a location that meets safety requirements and can help give you peace of mind while you’re at work.

2. Always do a site visit.

You should always do a site visit of the facility before enrolling your child in daycare. When you are there, don’t be shy, and come with a list of questions. Ask how they handle naptime. What cleaning materials they use, how often, and where they are stored. Ask about their hiring practices and how they screen candidates. Plan a visit long enough to observe meal times, play time, etc. If something looks amiss, ask about it!

3. Check on the ages and number of children in the center.

Be sure to ask how close the center is to capacity. How do they break up age groups? If you are looking at home-based care, are there enough children in your child’s age group for play and development? What’s the staff-to-child ratio? Does it match the state requirements? Ensuring your child has peers to interact with and that there are enough trained adults to keep them safe and take care of their needs will make daycare a better experience for your family.

4. Make sure you understand the fee structure.

First, ask around to friends and colleagues about market rates for care in your area. Be sure you know the details, like: are there extra charges for food, diapers, late fees, etc.? If you are receiving childcare subsidies from your employer or another source, confirm the childcare provider will accept those subsidies. Ask how the provider bills and if your payment schedule can be changed to coincide with your payroll schedule or other payment arrangements.

5. Check multiple options.

Just like you probably wouldn’t buy a car or hire a contractor for your home without considering a few options, the same should be true for picking your childcare provider. Not sure how to find out what’s out there? Try contacting local parent groups, your employer’s “Employee Assistance Program,” and friends and neighbors. At a minimum, consider looking into at least three options before you decide.

6. Start early.

Some popular childcare facilities have wait lists. Start looking well before you actually need the daycare, so you have a better chance of getting a slot at your preferred location. Know what your backup will be if you don’t make it off the wait list at your first choice – you might need to get on more than one provider’s list!

Looking for other ideas on how to select childcare? Check out these pieces:

Parents Magazine: 8 Tips for Choosing Child Care

Healthychildren.org: Choosing a Childcare Center

PBS: Choosing a Preschool

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