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Choosing Child Care That's Right For You

Finding quality child care often seems like a formidable task, especially to a new parent. The following information may help you in choosing the care best suited to your family’s needs.

Exploring Available Options:

Most working professionals utilize one of three types of child care: (1) a care giver or nanny provides care at the child’s home; (2) the child is taken to the care giver’s home, which includes family child care homes; or (3) the child is taken to a child care center. In Oklahoma, child care centers and family child care homes must be licensed in accordance with the requirements of the Department of Human Services, Division of Child Care. To aid in finding child care, you can use The Child Care Locator, available through the Oklahoma Department of Human Services website. In addition to licensing by the State, all child care centers and home based centers are rated under the DHS Reach for the Stars program. Information on the star rating system is available at the DHS website, www.okdhs.org/childcarefind/. Beyond licensing by the State, some family child care homes and child care centers are accredited by other organizations, including the National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

Some issues to consider in deciding which option is best for you include: cost; hours of availability; your responsibility for employment taxes; what backup care is available in the event your care giver becomes sick or is otherwise unavailable; what is your comfort level with an unsupervised care giver; if using a friend or family member, can you openly and frankly discuss problems as they arise; if you have additional children, which option will be best; how important is the availability of interaction with other children.

Plan Early:

Once you find out you are pregnant (or, in case of adoption, that placement is anticipated), it is advisable to immediately begin exploring child care options. Most child care facilities have waiting lists and will place you on that list early to try to ensure a spot will be open when you are returning to work.

No Place is Perfect:

You should have high standards when choosing child care. But remember, no type of care or particular facility will be perfect. Decide what matters most to you by creating a list of priorities. Decide where you can allow some flexibility in your standards and where you draw the line.

Follow Your Instincts:

You know what is best for your child. While advice from friends and information from trusted referrals can be invaluable, ultimately you must decide what is best for your child. New wallpaper and carpet may be a high priority for a friend. You may be more interested in the longevity of the staff at the child care center.

Trial Runs:

If you choose a child care facility or a family child care home, make several informal visits before you actually begin using the facility. These visits allow you to familiarize yourself with staff and with the schedule and daily routines of the facility. Familiarizing yourself with the facility will ease the anxiety of those first few weeks separated from your baby. Staff should be receptive and friendly to your visits. If they are not, or allow visits to occur at restricted times, you may want to look elsewhere. If you are using home-care, have the care giver spend abbreviated times with your child before you return to work. Giving the care giver time to get familiar with your expectations and the child’s routine can make the transition smoother.

Visit Often:

In the first few weeks, visit as often as your schedule permits. Drop-off and pick-up times are often hectic and rushed. A mid-day visit gives you time to assess the situation and to discuss any concerns in a more relaxed manner. A child care center should welcome parent visits openly and not view them as a distraction or disruption.

Location:

Pick a location that is convenient to your workplace. Often it is difficult to leave the office at the end of the day. A location close-by will lessen the stress of battling traffic in a time-crunch. More importantly, if there is an emergency or your child is sick, you will be able to get there quickly.

Matters About Which to Inquire:

This list must be tailored to your own needs, concerns and priorities, of course, but here are a few suggestions: what is the teacher to child ratio; are meals and snacks nutritionally adequate; how often, where and by whom are meals and snacks served; how long has the staff been at the facility; what is the turnover rate; what education and training, including CPR, is provided to staff; what method of discipline, if any, is used; what is the daily schedule; are reports about feedings or daily activities offered to parents; how often are the children given time outside; is t.v. watching permitted and if so, what shows are viewed and how often; are a variety of developmentally appropriate toys available; what educational or other activities are there; on which holidays does the facility close; what are the requirements regarding illness and absence from the center; if the child is to be transported, what method of transportation is used?

If using in-home care or a family child care home inquiries should include whether there is smoking in the house and whether pets are present. Additionally, in a family child care situation you should meet everyone who will have any interaction with your child. If you opt to welcome a care giver into your home, make your expectations known at the outset.

Before making a final decision on a child care center or family care home you should both check references from parents and contact DHS licensing services to check the licensing file, which will include past complaints and resolution thereof. Before having a provider into your home you should conduct a thorough reference and background check.

Finally, once you have started your child in care, your vigilance does not end. You should become involved in your child’s care by asking questions, getting to know your child care providers even better, and volunteering help where needed. Additionally, should you become concerned about the quality of care your child is receiving you should take action, which could include lodging a complaint with DHS and/or finding a new care arrangement.

The internet offers many helpful resources, including checklists to be used when seeking child care. The following sites may prove helpful:

www.okdhs.org
www.rainbowfleet.org
http://www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/PM1805.pdf (a great list of questions and a convenient chart for comparing your child care options)