So You Have Decided Daycare is For Your Family… Now What???
Not all daycare centers are the same. And I am not just talking about good ones and bad ones. Some have religious affiliations while others are secular; some offer part time care while others adhere to strict full time schedules; some offer meals and snacks for the kids, while others require parents to pack a lunch. I started off thinking that this was going to be a post offering a neat and succinct checklist for parents to use while interviewing potential daycare centers. However, in trying to compile this checklist, it occurred to me that what is important to one family may be completely objectionable to another.
Thus, the first thing I recommend doing once you have decided on daycare as your chosen means of child care, is to create a list of things that are important to you in looking for your daycare center. This will inform the questions that arise as you interview your finalists. As a guide, I have compiled a list of items that may be important or unimportant, depending on each individual family. This is intended only as a guide and is not exhaustive. I realize that I cannot possibly think of all things that would be important to all people. But I hope it is helpful in any event.
1) What are the center’s hours of operation?
Have a long commute? Work longer hours than the usual 9-5? Make sure your center’s hours mesh with your schedule, or that you have someone available who can drop off or pick up your child when you are unable to do so. You may also wish to ascertain if the center has a policy to charge for late pick up if you have a habit of being late!
2) How flexible is the center in creating the children’s schedules?
Does the daycare center offer part-time placement or require a full schedule load? If the child attends part time, is there any flexibility in case of the need to change days? These questions are particularly important for families that have a parent with a part-time work schedule, or those families that have a grandparent or friend who look after the child a day or two during the week. You may also want to find out whether you will be charged for vacations, etc.
3) What is the child sick policy of the daycare center?
While it’s a given that your child will be exposed to all sorts of nasties just by virtue of being surrounded by his/her fellow germy kids (it builds immunity!!!), different daycare centers have different policies regarding when a child can and cannot attend the center. Some centers even offer a sick care option where they will send a temporary caregiver to your home on days when you just can’t miss an important meeting and your child is too sick to attend the center. You might also want to ask whether the center will still charge for care when a child is too sick to attend.
4) Does the center provide meals and snacks?
Some parents are thrilled by the prospect of not having to pack a lunch for their children. Others may prefer to pack a lunch, especially in the case of individual dietary restrictions and allergies. Either way, you may want to ask if they do provide meals, how they create their menus, are the parents given menus and at what intervals, whether the meals organic, etc. You may also require information regarding safeguards that are taken for allergic children. For example, my son’s daycare centers had a strict “No Nuts” policy towards packed lunches. Either way, ask!
5) How does the center handle pumped breast milk?
I have heard of centers that will accept a frozen library of pumped milk, while others require the expressed bottles to be brought to the center daily. Consider what is the easiest way the center can support your efforts to keep pumping.
6) What is the turnover rate of the daycare staff?
Daycare centers have notoriously high turnover rates. Much of this has to do with the fact that the pay is low, and that many of the caregivers at the center are in the midst of working towards higher qualifications and degrees. Thus, you may be interested in what the qualifications are for the caregivers at the center, and especially how the center ensures continuity of care in dealing with the inevitable turnovers. It’s an important question to ask if you plan on utilizing a center long term.
7) Is there a religious affiliation for the center?
If so, are there any religious rituals, teachings or ceremonies performed at the center? Again, this might be right for one family, but totally wrong for another.
8) Is the center affiliated with a school?
Very often nursery schools or different private schools may have a daycare portion, which could potentially offer a very easy transition for your toddler from daycare to nursery. Some centers provide after pre-school care for your child until you are able to pick your child up.
9) What is the center’s policy towards discipline?
Bites, tantrums, and fights are a regular occurrence at home, so it’s a safe bet that you can multiply those occurrences by however many children are in the center. Find out how the center deals with the offenders, as well as the offended. Be sure to ask when and how parents are notified of any problems that arise.
10) What are the center’s safety/security policies
One of the most important questions you should ask, and the daycare center should be able to give a very detailed explanation of emergency procedures, as well as safety and security plans. In this crazy and scary day and age, you should accept nothing less than total preparedness.
11) What are the role of the parents at the center?
Are parents encouraged to participate? Welcomed at the center? Is there an open door policy? Can you visit your child whenever you want? Are you able to spend time with your child or just observe?
12) What is the center’s child care philosophy?
This basically sums up all of the above questions and considerations. Make sure that a center’s philosophy aligns with your own. Your child could be spending the vast majority of his/her waking life in this place, so it is crucial for you to be comfortable that your values and ideas are mirrored or implemented while you are at work.
Overall, the main piece of advice I would give to all parents seeking out any sort of child care for their precious little ones is: use your gut. You know if you feel comfortable with a place or a person. If you have any nagging doubts or any concerns, make sure the centers you are considering are able to address them to your satisfaction. This is the most important job you will ever hire someone to do, so remember that no question is too stupid or outlandish, and anyway, they have probably heard them all before!