Choosing a Childcare Provider
You’ve called and called and finally found a provider you want to meet. What now? Here are some tips to help you when meeting with a potential provider. Remember, you know what’s best for your child. Make sure you feel comfortable with the person and the environment before you leave your child. A little anxiety is normal - you’re leaving your baby with somebody else. If you question at all whether your baby will be safe there, don’t leave her.
1. Get to know the provider – Ask them why they choose to become a provider. If meeting with a teacher at a center, ask them why they work there. Ask about their education. Some states require providers to be certified, especially if they are working in a center. Ask about their experience. How long have they worked at the center? If they are a home provider, did they work at a center before opening their own center and how long have they cared for children in their home? Watch them interact with the children in their care, and also your own child. Are you comfortable with what you see?
2. Take a look around – Ask to see where your child would spend most of her time. Where will she play, eat, and sleep? Does it look safe and clean? (Remember that children play there. Don’t expect things to be spotless, but they should not be dirty) Does it look like a fun place for her to spend her days? Is the location secure, so that she couldn’t walk out an unattended door or run out of an unfenced yard. Question if you are not allowed to see an area.
3. What’s included? – Ask what your tuition includes. Do parents provide wipes, diapers, baby powder, and diaper cream? What about meals? How many meals and snacks are included? If your baby is still on formula and/or baby food, most providers request that parents provide this. Are there any extra activity or field trip fees? If so, how often and how much?
4. Those darn contracts – Make sure you read it! Even before you decide on a caregiver for your baby, ask to see the contract. Read it thoroughly and ask questions about anything that is unclear to you. This is a legally binding contract and both parties will be expected to uphold what is spelled out in the contract. Some key things to look for are:
a. Days the location is closed – What days are considered holidays, and are there other days the center is closed? Do you still have to pay for these days?
b. Vacations (theirs) – This mostly applies to home based providers. How many days do they allow for their own vacations and what is their policy on payment for these days. Many providers require that parents pay for days the provider is on vacation, even though your child will not be in their care.
c. Vacations (yours) – What is their policy if your family goes on vacation and does not need care for several days? Do you pay full tuition, a portion, or nothing for those days? How many days are allowed and what type of notice does the provider request?
d. Termination – What is the process if either party wants to terminate the relationship. Often, the contract specifies a length of notice that both the provider and the parent need to give. You should also understand the process for ending the relationship if either you are unhappy with the care, or your child is not a good match for the caregiver.
5. Call those references – Ask for a list of names of both current and previous parents. Call them! When talking to the current parents, ask them about their experience with the caregiver, the other children, the policies, the contract, and anything else you can think of. Also ask the age of their child in care. The parent of a toddler may have a very different perspective than the parent of an infant. Also call the parents who no longer use that care. Ask why they left, whether they were happy when they were there, what the termination process was like, and anything else that might help you make a decision.
6. Take some time to think - In some cities, openings go quickly and you may have to decide quickly. Don’t let that pressure you into making a decision before you are ready, or choosing somewhere you are not completely comfortable with. Visit as many times as you need to feel comfortable, and ask as many questions as you want. Leaving your child with another caregiver is a huge decision and one you should take your time making. Once you decide on a provider, know that your child is happy and having fun while there, but still looks forward to being back in your arms at night.
About the author:
Melissa Newby, MSW, has worked as a therapist and in marketing, but her most rewarding job has been raising her son. Frustrations with online childcare resources led her to found www.daycarematch.com with her husband.
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