Choosing Childcare

As of the turn of the century, statistics show that 75% of women with children under the age of five are employed, thus scrambling for child care while they work. In the last thirty years, the percentage of children enrolled in day care has increased more than 40%. Therein lies our "trilemma" finding flexible, affordable, and quality child care. Although the search for care may be one of the most pressing concerns for parents, a dizzying maze of information makes finding that care an exhausting endeavor. To help you with the process, here are several tips and bits of information to get you on your way to finding and choosing the best child care for your kids.

The Same but Different    to top

The National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies identifies three types of care options: 1) in-home care, 2) family day care, and 3) center care. Your first step in finding child care is determining which kind of child care you want.

Baby Talk
The National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) is a national membership organization of more than 400 community child care resource and referral agencies in all fifty states. The NACCRRA can provide you with the name and phone number of a local member. Your local agency can then offer you listings of child care providers in your area. You may reach the NACCRRA by navigating online to

Nanny, Nanny, Boo, Boo     to top

In-home care, where the provider comes to the home or lives with you, remains the rarest form of child care for most parents. In-home care is expensive, however, generally ranging from $1,200-2,000 a month, depending on the number of children and the location of services. Whatever the price, in-home sitters offer convenience and personal attention to your child within the comfort of familiar and safe surroundings. Also, when your child falls ill, you needn't miss work not an option in family day care or center care. But before you run off looking for a nanny, consider the cons of in-home care: 1) there are no other teachers/providers in the house to monitor the nanny's behavior, 2) the nanny may or may not provide learning exercises or projects during the day, and 3) there is no socialization with other children.

All in the Family     to top

The overwhelming preference of parents looking for child care is family day care, where a parent takes the child to a private home, and the provider watches a small group of children. Typically, family day care runs less than either in-home or center care. Fees vary from area to area (expect around $85-$100 per week), so you'll need to check with your local resource and referral service for more accurate numbers.

Besides reasonable rates, family day care offers less chance of illness due to reduced exposure, a home environment, more one-on-one attention, and (sometimes) a more lax sick policy. On the flip side, however, family day care does not use professional cleaning services or sanitizers for toys. Also, there is less security in place, less concentration on learning activities, not as much socialization with same-age children, fewer pieces (if any) of outdoor play equipment, and a greater risk of accidents.

The Center of the Kiddie Universe     to top

A majority of openings for child care occur in day care centers large professional establishments caring for many kids at different ages with a staff of teachers and helpers. While more expensive than family care, center care does offer many advantages like more structure, daily cleaning of the facility, sanitation devices for toys, security, well-maintained play equipment, daily record sheets, and opportunities for socialization with peer groups. Additionally, a center typically provides meals and transportation to and from school. Centers, however, are often too regimented for many parents. More kids also means more exposure to illnesses. But perhaps the biggest "con" of center care is the "institution feel" of the establishments.

Wee Word
Child care centers use a daily record sheet to keep track of feedings, changes, and any other significant events in your child's life during the day. They provide the teacher and you with a record of anything warranting discussion like a child saying his first word, taking a first step, manifesting a lack of appetite or exhibiting unusual behavior.

Twenty Questions     to top

Once you've determined whether an in-home, family day care or center suits you and your child best, you'll want to contact your local CCR&RA (Child Care Resource and Referral Agency). The NACCRRA Web site provides contact information. Then with list in hand, begin asking questions of all providers. Here are twenty to get you started:

  • 1. Do you have space for my child?
  • 2. Are you licensed?
  • 3. May I see a copy of your license?
  • 4. What hours and days are you open?
  • 5. What are the fees?
  • 6. What meals or snacks are provided?
  • 7. How many children are in your care?
  • 8. What is your sick policy?
  • 9. May I come to visit?
  • 10. What are your discipline policies?
  • 11. What training do you and your staff have in case of an emergency?
  • 12. Are immunizations required of all children and staff?
  • 13. Do you have a substitute caregiver?
  • 14. May I contact some parents who have used your care?
  • 15. Where do the children nap?
  • 16. How long have you been a licensed provider?
  • 17. How long has your staff been working here?
  • 18. What is your/their background?
  • 19. What kind of training does your staff receive?
  • 20. What kind of background checks must they pass before hiring?

Finally, ask anything else that may concern you. One new mother, for instance, knew she wanted her child's artwork displayed. Ultimately, you need to search within yourself and consider the unique personality of your child to discover other appropriate questions to ask.

Peek Behind the Curtain    to top

If you like the answers to the questions, visit the facility or home. Look in the kitchen for cleanliness and safety concerns. Scrutinize the condition of the play equipment. Peruse the contents of the toy box.

Good care is hard to find. But armed with good information like the questions to ask and the differences in child care the task will prove less formidable. In time, you'll find the best, most comfortable environment for your bundle of joy! Good luck.

Baby Talk
Each state regulates the licensing of child care facilities and home care providers. To find out what your state mandates regarding care (like the ratio of child care workers to children) visit the National Child Care Information Center (NCCIC) at or call 1-800-616-2242.

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