For new parents, the thought of handing their fresh-faced, newborn infant over to the care of a total stranger for eight hours every single day is downright terrifying. But, busy moms and dads are expected to do just that when they initiate day care for their young kids.
A recent study through Pew Research showed that nearly half of all two-parent households now include both a mother and father who work full-time. With the uptick in the workforce, there’s a related need for a childcare solution during the day for children who are not quite of school age. Sure, some parents can find the time to be constructive and productive while working from home, but for many parents, this is just not feasible and the need for a day care center becomes a priority.
While the task of finding the right childcare program can be exhausting and downright frustrating, following these five tips should help alleviate some of that pain and find out how to find a daycare that doesn’t suck:
1. Start the process early – The demand for day care is high and will likely continue to trend upwards. And with high demand comes a lengthy waiting list for the programs of choice. As a result, it’s a good idea to actually begin the search for day care once you are expecting and as soon as you’ve made the decision to use a day care. Seriously, some of the most “exclusive” day care centers will have waitlists that can last as long as a year. So start your research as soon as possible.
2. Do your research – Google and Yelp are certainly your friends in the epic search for the right place, but nothing beats word of mouth and the honest review of fellow parents. Ask friends and coworkers for advice and recommendations on the best day care centers in your area. And when zeroing in on a center, ask that program for references and honest reviews. When given the opportunity to speak with a parent whose child attends a specific day care center, be sure to ask questions about the positives and negatives and everything in between. If they don’t like the center, ask why; if their child is no longer attending that specific program, ask why.
3. Check your budget – The average cost of day care in the United States is just under $12,000 per year according to the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies. That’s just the average. In big cities like New York and Washington, D.C., monthly prices can hit the $2,000 mark. Plan accordingly and decide if this is something your household can even afford to begin with; some families find it more financially efficient for one parent to stay at home full-time rather than take on the burden of another huge monthly bill.
4. Visit, Ask Questions & Take Notes – Most day care programs will have an open house or at least provide an opportunity to tour the facilities ahead of making the final decision. This is a great time to view the center where your child will spend the majority of her day and potentially observe the providers in action. Ideally, you’ll want a ratio of one caregiver for every three babies in the room. Check also for the cleanliness of the facilities and the routine of the caregivers: Do they wash their hands regularly? How do they interact with the children? Does the center itself have an emergency plan in case of fire, flood, tornado, etc., and are first aid kits readily available? What is the holiday schedule of the childcare program?
5. Make Sure There’s a Match – During the interview process, be sure that the provider follows similar parenting and care-giving styles to what your child experiences at home. Find out about discipline (scoldings, timeouts, etc.) and what kinds of technologies are used throughout the day (TV, radio, tablets, etc.). The key is for your child to be as comfortable as possible while they are in the hands of the day care center facilitators, and for as much consistency as possible.
6 (BONUS). Stay Involved & Make Surprise Visits – Once you’ve found the perfect day care program, the job is still not done. It’s important to be involved early and often. Be sure to communicate with your child’s care provider regularly and get constant feedback on the behavior of your child, feeding habits, number of diapers per day, etc. When possible, it’s also a good idea to stop in at a random time, unannounced to see just how the day-to-day is going with your child and ensure everything is up to par. Just make sure you do it at a time that won’t be disruptive to the class, and if your child will be upset if you come and go, come in at the end of the day when you can take him home with you.
It’s a daunting task and a scary proposition to think about handing over your baby to another person for the greater part of the day. But for working parents, it’s necessary. While the journey to find a day care center that is not only affordable, but effective, can be downright painful, following a well-thought-out plan will ease that tension and help ensure a smooth transition for both you and your child.