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Child Care

Researching and Locating Childcare Options

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

Once parents have gone through the process of deciding that childcare is needed and have determined the type of care setting that they desire for the child, the parents must then research, locate, and enroll the child in the care facility or home care environment that will be used. Alternatively, the family must locate and contract with an appropriate nanny. This process should begin prior to the baby’s birth if care will be needed in the first year of life.

Listing Important Attributes

list with boxes checkedParents should start their research by first making a list of the attributes that are important to them with regard to the type of care environment they want for their child. For example, how far away from home or work should the care location be? Finding care nearer to home will reduce the amount of time that the child will spend in the car each day. However, if the child becomes ill and must be picked up from care (and most day care center policies specify that sick children must be picked up within 30-60 minutes of parental notification), then selecting a care location that is far from work can become a problem. Whether or not both parents will share transportation duties will also affect the desired location of care.

Another example of a potentially important childcare attribute is how flexible a given child care facility can be about pick up and drop off hours. Flexibility may become a key ingredient of the type of care selected for parents whose work is frequently interrupted by emergencies that affect the start time or end time of their day.

A final example of a care facility attribute is the cost of care. Care facilities that charge more for their services than the family can afford unfortunately cannot be seriously considered, regardless of what they have to offer.

The list of attributes for an ideal nanny will look different than the list of attributes for an ideal care facility. A nanny list might include:

  • a list of duties that the parents hope the nanny will agree to take on in addition to care duties
  • language or cultural preferences
  • salary and benefits the family can offer.

Please see Appendix A for a checklist that can be used during this process to help in identifying important variables/attributes.

Create a Short List of Potentially Acceptable Facilities

Once parents have created a list of caregiver attributes that are important to them, they must begin to locate possible care facility choices that most closely fit their list of important attributes. For those seeking a day care center or family care setting, it is often good to start by soliciting referrals from other parents, local doctors and child social workers, religious communities, neighbors, associations, family, or friends. The parents' employer's Employee Assistance Program may be able to be of great service in locating quality and affordable care.

In soliciting referrals, it is helpful to keep in mind that different people have different parenting philosophies which may lead them to praise or reject various care facilities on different criteria. The more parents know about and agree with the parenting philosophies of the people they are requesting referrals from, the more confident they can be that any care referrals that come from those people will be of good quality. If need be, parents can use online or telephone book resources or childcare locators that may be available through state government licensing agency websites or through government sponsored child care websites. There may be fees for some search services, but for the busy parent, using such options can save time and aggravation.

For parents pursuing day care or family care facilities, 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 against the center or provider. If parents are not concerned with licensure, they may skip this step.

Conduct Interviews and Refine the Short List

Having confirmed the current licensure of each candidate care facility on the short list, it is a good idea to call each center or provider on the list and do a telephone interview. Parents should make a list of a few key questions (perhaps hours of operation and cost) to ask each facility prior to making these calls. It is a good idea for parents to make notes during or after each call so as to record their feelings about each conversation. Noting whether or not each contact person was helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable, whether they kept the parents on hold for an extended period of time and whether or not they completely answered all questions asked of them is important. These records of first impressions with each facility help parents to cross off facilities they do not want to investigate any further. Parents can also cross off facilities that did well during the interview, but which do not meet the family’s basic needs (location, cost, etc.).

Please see Appendix B for an example of a telephone interview checklist.

For parents desiring 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. Using a nanny-screening agency can be a worthwhile investment for busy parents who do not have time to advertise a nanny position, do multiple interviews, and perform reference checks on their own. The downside to using an agency is that agencies often charge high fees and regulate the weekly salary and benefits that are paid to hired nannies. The agency route is simply not appropriate or feasible for all families.

Parents using a nanny-locating agency can expect to fill out numerous forms detailing the parents' needs and expectations, and a profile in which they describe themselves. Those hiring a nanny on their own without an agency can begin the search process by posting a position notice in local newspapers and on community bulletin boards and websites such as can be found at colleges and universities, churches, community centers, and parent groups. In either case, candidates for the nanny position should be personally interviewed and screened during the process of shortening the candidate list. The final candidate list should be composed only of candidates whose references all check out properly, and who have no criminal or sex offender background.

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