Seven Considerations When Choosing Childcare

by Carol E Jordan

In addition to considering colors for the nursery and what type of stroller to use, working mothers also have the enormous task of deciding what kind of care provider they will select for their children. To a new mother, this task may seem all but unapproachable. How can you ever choose the provider good enough for your baby?

The following are some tips for selecting a provider.

How to Begin

Get a copy of your state's regulations for child care facilities (often referred to as Minimum Standards). Any center you select will need to meet these standards at a minimum. Before visiting a center, keep these standards in mind so you know what to look for.

Generate a list of potential centers, and then call to see if they have slots available. Start investigating centers that look good. Making an appointment to visit the center gives the facility warning and time to prepare for your visit. It is best to find out a range of times that are best to observe the caregiver interacting with the children and then just show up unannounced during those times.

This gives you the opportunity to see what things are like without a chance for them to prepare for your visit by cleaning up or being on "best behavior". Also, it would be good to visit several times so that you can get a good feel for the consistency and overall atmosphere of the place. When you are down to just one or two places, take your child and see how your child reacts to the caregiver/s and children. Using your own child's comfort level to make the final decision could be the difference between a happy transition and a troubled transition.

Ask to view the center's most recent inspection reports from the licensing agency, health department, and fire department. These reports will list any health, safety and standards violations the center may have been cited for during their last inspections as well as note any effort to correct previously cited violations. Many states require that these inspection reports be posted in a prominent area for three months following the inspection and just be available after that time. Your local licensing office would be able to tell you the posting requirements.

Things to Look for during your Visit

  1. Child Staff Ratios: This is one of the most important factors in determining quality of care: Too many children can overwhelm a caregiver and make for a stressful situation. Most states have child/staff ratios for infants ages six weeks up to twelve months set at 4/1 or 5/1, meaning 4 or 5 infants for every 1 adult.

    Some states allow for half-staffing during naptimes, which would only apply if all infants were sleeping at the same time. This would allow for 8/1 or 10/1 infants to caregivers. When all the children are sleeping there is no real need for full staffing and this gives the caregivers an opportunity for a break. The main thing to remember is that even during nap times there must be at least one caregiver present and attentive to the children.

  2. Diapering Place/Procedures: Child care facilities are required to have diapering stations separated from all food preparation. Most states also require that caregivers wear gloves when in contact with bodily fluids to prevent the spread of several viral and bacterial infections. Hand washing before and after all diaper changes is typically required. Be sure the caregiver has a way to sanitize the changing area after each diaper change.

  1. Food Preparation: The caregiver should be knowledgeable about handling breast milk as well as formula. S/he should also have a system for keeping each infant's bottles separate; preventing mix ups or switches. Hands should always be washed before and after food preparation. If infants are fed from jars of infant food, the remaining food should be discarded because bacteria from the infant's saliva will collect in the jar during the feeding and can cause illness if the food is used again later, even if proper refrigeration and warming procedures are followed.

  2. General Sanitation: For infants less than 12 months of age, all toys and play equipment should be sanitized at least once daily. This age of infant tends to put many things into the mouth, increasing the risk of spreading infections and illnesses. A simple solution of bleach and water (or other disinfecting cleaner) is adequate.

  3. Outside Play Area: Any outdoor play area should be equipped with only age-appropriate equipment. Slides should not be over 4 feet high and swings should all have safety belts that are in good working order. Sand boxes are fine but do need to be kept clean either by raking daily or covering when not in use. The baby area should also be fenced to prevent mobile infants from wandering into the play area of older toddlers and children.

    Outside play time should be limited according to the weather. Most states have minimum and maximum temperatures governing outside play time (and if the states do not, the centers may). During extremely hot or cold weather (generally below 50oF and above 90oF) time outside should be limited to less than 15 minutes at a time. During cold weather proper clothing should be worn anytime the children go outside (coats, jackets, shoes, long pants). In hot weather children should be offered plenty to drink in order to stay hydrated and sunscreen (typically supplied by the parent) should always be used.

    Some centers do not require that walking infants wear shoes, so you might want to check on this policy as wearing shoes can prevent injury to those tiny toes.

Ask About:

  1. Illness Policies: Most states require that children with a fever of 100.4oF or higher be sent home This temperature guideline may vary from state to state. Typically children with fever, vomiting or diarrhea should be kept out until they are fever free for 24 hours. Your state may be more lenient or strict, but no matter the law, be sure the center you choose follows the rule for children as well as staff. Check on policies concerning different illnesses, such as rashes and colds, which are common but still contagious.
  2. Open Door Policy: This invaluable for parents allows them to visit at any time during the day without warning. It is a wonderful policy for the parent because the caregivers must always be on alert to visitors and parents dropping in unexpectedly. Caregivers have extra incentive to do their best and be at their best every single day.

Classrooms should be equipped with windows into the room. This will allow the parent, director, or even inspector to watch the caregiver and children interact without disruption, giving you a good idea of what normally happens in the room and how the caregiver interacts with the children when no one else is watching.

Like most of the tasks of new motherhood, selecting a care provider is daunting and not always painless -- but it also is rewarding. When you find a center you feel comfortable with, your return to work will be bolstered by the knowledge that your baby is getting the best possible care.

Carol E. Jordan is the mother of 2 children. She has been a preschool teacher for 9 years and is working toward a CDA (Child Development Associate) an Early Childhood Education professional credential.

Copyright © Carol E. Jordan. Permission to reublish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.