One of the biggest decisions parents have to make after choosing to have a child involves deciding who will care for that child, especially during the early developmental years. Parents choose to resolve this difficult dilemma in many ways. Some families choose to use full-time childcare, while in other families one parent stays or works at home for all or part of the time, or a parent chooses to leave the workforce completely in order to become the primary caregiver.
Finding appropriate and affordable child care is often a challenge. There are different options available in different places, and at many different price points (although all options are expensive). Each care option comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. It can be confusing for parents to sort though the different options, and to locate local caregiving resources that fit their individual needs while remaining appropriate and affordable.
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What factors should be considered when thinking about child care?
- The cost of childcare is often one of the biggest issues in the decision regarding childcare and families must first decide if they can afford it.
- Rates vary depending on the area of the country, whether the setting is a city or rural area, the type of care chosen, and the number of care hours needed.
- How attached parents are to their career or job will also influence the decision to choose one form of childcare over another.
- Parents who continue working and place the child in full-time or part-time childcare may feel sad when their work leave has ended and they must leave the child at day care or they may question whether they have made the right decision or feel like they are spending too much time away from the child.
- A parent who telecommutes (works from home) part or all of the time will experience a loss of socialization opportunities and connections with coworkers and will likely have to deal with coworkers who believe that they are not really working when at home.
- Parents choosing to leave the workplace and devote themselves to full-time caregiving must cope with a change in identity and different relationships with others, as well as the fear that they may have a hard time returning to the workplace in the future.
- In a day care setting, a child is exposed daily to many other children and learns the important skills of sharing and playing together.
- Children who remain at home with a parent can end up having less interaction with others and it will be important to look for opportunities for children to be exposed to other children, whether through play groups, children in the neighborhood or extended family, or through short day care situations.
What types of child care are there?
- There are 4 primary types of childcare settings available to parents in the United States including:
- Group Day Care Centers can be part of a national or regional chain or an independent for profit or nonprofit center. They may be a free-standing and independent organization or part of a larger organization, such as an on-site care facility sponsored by an employer.
- Family childcare, also known as an "in-home" day care, takes place in a provider's personal home and is usually a single provider who is caring for multiple children and families.
- A nanny is a professional caregiver of any age and level of experience who will work in the parent's home to care for the child, and may or may not live with the family.
- An au pair is generally a younger person, often a college student, who will live with the family for a few months to a few years to provide care for the children.
- A relative, friend, or neighbor providing care is similar in some ways to a family care setting, but the person is usually only providing care for the child and perhaps his/her own, as well.
What is important to know about child care licensure?
- Licensure rules are governed by each state and may differ, but some themes are common to all states.
- Day care centers are always required to maintain a license with the state.
- Family childcare homes will require licensure based on the number of children and families that are cared for.
- While conditions for obtaining and maintaining licensure will be slightly different in each care setting and in each state, generally the licensure process includes an onsite evaluation of the facility, and specific ongoing requirements that providers must meet in order to remain licensed.
- The areas that are generally looked at during the licensure process and that are most often governed by state rules are:
- Guidelines for teacher, assistant teacher, aide, volunteer, and substitute positions
- Staff Ratios and Group Sizes
- Equipment, Materials, and Physical Space
- Food Guidelines
- Nap time Guidelines
- Exclusion of Sick Children
- Reporting Guidelines
- Provider Professional Development/ongoing education requirements
What are the steps involved in researching and locating appropriate child care?
- Start by first making a list of the things that are important with regard to the type of care environment desired for the child.
- For a center or family care home, this list can include items like location, how flexible hours of care are, and the cost of care.
- For a nanny this may include duties that the parents hope the nanny will agree to take on in addition to care, language or cultural preferences, and the salary and benefits the family can offer.
- Once the list has been created, parents can begin to locate possible choices that most closely fit their list.
- For those wanting a day care center or family care setting, it is often good to start by asking for referrals from other parents, local doctors and child social workers, religious communities, family, or friends.
- The next step is to create a short list of care facilities, and to contact the licensing board in the state to verify that each facility's license is current and that there have been no disciplinary actions filed.
- After verifying licensure, it is a good idea to call each center or provider on the list and do a telephone interview.
- For parents wanting to hire a nanny, it may make sense to contract with an agency which can provide a prescreened short list of candidates that match parents' needs.
What should parents look for during an onside child care visit?
- Day care centers will usually have a set process for visits that include a tour, and a question and answer session during which materials such as the center handbook and major policies, fee schedule, and enrollment forms are made available.
- In-home providers may have a more relaxed process.
- If possible, a visit to an in-home provider should take place in the evening after the children have left for the day so that the provider can give the parents his or her full attention while discussing care practices.
- If the parents continue to be interested in the in-home provider, they can return for a second visit during the day to see the home with children present.
- In either care setting, areas that parents should look at and ask questions about include:
- Staffing and Ratios
- Caregiver Training
- Safety and Emergency Guidelines
- Sick Exclusion Policies
- Immunization and Child Record Policies
- Pick-up and Drop-off Policies
- Financial Policies and Operating Hours
- Food and Nutrition Policies
- Diapering and Toilet Use
- Sleeping Practices
- Discipline Practices
- Play and Development
- Daily Reports and the Caregiver/Parent Relationship
- Relationship Between the Caregiver and Child
How can a family successfully transition into child care?
- For new parents leaving their infant, the majority of the adjustment will take place on the parent's end, as the infant will most likely remain content so long as someone is there to hold, feed and change him or her as needed.
- The parents of an infant can have guilt feelings around "leaving" or even "abandoning" their child to return to work.
- Establishing a good relationship with the caregiver can help to reduce these difficult feelings and communication at drop-off and pick-up times is vital.
- For a child old enough to understand separation, it is important to talk about the upcoming change to day care in positive terms.
- Describe the way the child's day will happen to the child and walk through what the new day will look like: where the child will be, what activities he or she will get to do, what people he or she will be with, etc.
- If possible, begin the transition gradually with a few hours per day during the first week and then moving into a full-time situation.
- Establishing a consistent drop-off and pickup routine is critical for the child's sense of security during care.
- Parents should also develop a backup plan for making sure that the child has a safe place to go when the primary day care environment is not available.