Choosing Child Care
By Laura Laing
It’s tough enough to make the decision to go back to work. Choosing a child care center can seem like climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Emotions aside, it’s not as daunting as it sounds. With a little bit of research, confidence and keen attention to your best parenting tool—your gut instinct—you can find the perfect spot for your tot.
There are plenty of reasons for choosing a center over homecare or a nanny, and all of them are very individual. Nonetheless, that’s the first step. For Susan Van Wickler of Wytheville, Va, one thing was certain: she wanted a licensed child care center. She got a list of local child care centers from the department of social services in her area and then made a quick call to each center to ask the basics: What is the cost? When is the center open? Where is it located? Is there a waiting list?
Licensed centers are subject to state regulations and go through regular evaluations, but just because a center has the state’s stamp of approval doesn’t mean it’s up to par. Regulations are inconsistent and minimal, says Linda Smith, executive director of the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA).
Then there are accredited centers, which receive the seal of approval from organizations like the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). New studies show that quality child care is important to the healthy development of young children. The markers of a top-notch program include loving and responsive caregivers, staff members who understand the basics of child development, good communication between parents and staff, and a well-maintained, safe facility.
“Here’s what parents do,” she says. “They make no assumptions, and they ask a lot of questions.” And when is the best time to ask these questions? During an unannounced visit.