More than half of the children in this country have both parents or an only parent in the workforce, which means that hundreds of thousands of parents have to make a difficult choice—who is going to care for my child while I am at work? There is certainly no easy answer.
What are my childcare options?
There are a number of different options when it comes to childcare. It’s important that you find something that works for you and your child.
Child Care Centers
Child Care Centers offer care for children in groups, and all are required to be licensed by the state. Licensing does not insure quality, but it does set minimum standards for health, safety and caregiver training. States inspect centers at least once a year. Many parents prefer centers because they believe that larger groups, multiple caregivers and state inspections create safer, better programs for children.
Family Child Care
Family child care refers to caregivers who offer child care in their own home. Requirements for these caregivers vary from state to state, but most require that they be regulated in some capacity. Parents often like the home-like environment and find it easier to relate to one adult caring for their child. Family Child Care is often less expensive and more flexible.
Some parents prefer to hire someone to care for their child in the family’s own home. They employ someone to come to their home, finding it more convenient and flexible, though it can often be significantly more expensive than other options.
Care by Family and Friends
Many parents also opt to have their children cared for by family members, friends or neighbors. Parents often feel most comfortable leaving their child with an adult they already know and trust. Some parents use this care because of their schedules (such as night shifts) or other things such as lack of transportation and budget limit their options.
How do I start looking for childcare?
Once you’ve chosen the type of childcare you want for your child, it’s time to start looking for available options.
1. Start early! It can take months to find a suitable caregiver for a child. If you are pregnant, about to start a job or know that your current caregiver can no longer take care of your child, start looking immediately!
2. Call a CCR&R, or Child Care Resource and Referral Center, in your area. These centers exist across Northern Virginia and they are their just to help parents like you find suitable care for your child. To look for a center in your community, visit www.childcareaware.org
3. Visit possible childcare locations. Visiting a provider location is essential to making a decision about childcare.
What should I look for in a childcare?
Low child-to-teacher ratios. This will help make sure your child gets the attention he or she needs. Ask how many children there are for each adult. The younger your child, the more important this number is. Babies should number no more than 4 for 1 adult. A 4-year-old, though, could do well with 10 children to one adult.
Overall group size. In addition to ratios, you’ll want to consider the total group size. Even with a low ratio, 30 preschoolers in one room can be overwhelming for young children (and the adults caring for them).
Qualified, consistent staff. Ask about the teachers’ and assistants’ training and certifications. Caregivers with degrees and special training might be better able to help your child learn and develop. Do they attend classes and workshops? You’ll also want to be aware of how long staff have been with the center and ensure that the center has low turn-over so your child is with the same adults every day.
Safe, healthy environment. Find out if the provider has been accredited by a national organization. Providers that are accredited have met voluntary standards for child care that are higher than most state licensing requirements. Whether or not a provider is licensed, be sure the facility is clean and safe (look for the same child-proofing steps you’ve taken at your own home, such as outlet covers, medicine being locked and out of reach, etc.) Be sure that diaper changing areas are disinfected after each use, and children and caregivers wash their hands after using the bathroom or playing and before eating.
Once you find the right child care.
When you decide on a child care provider, continue to stay involved and alert. Regularly ask questions and stay in touch with your child’s caregiver. If possible, drop in during the day to check in on your child. You could also call and check in. If your child is older, ask them about their care and how they feel about the provider.
When you can’t find care
Searching for childcare can be a very frustrating experience. If you are unable to find suitable care, there are some steps that can help:
1. Look in a different location. Are you only searching near your home? Consider options close to your workplace or on your way to work.
2. Find a parent support group. Many parents face this same problem. Talk to others and find out how they found childcare in your community. The more people who know you are searching for care, the more likely you are to find someone!
3. Talk to your employer. Are there a number of employees facing the same problem? Your employer might be able to help you search.
4. If you’ve found a great place that doesn’t have any openings, request that your name be put on a waiting list.
5. Consider “sharing” the cost of a child care provider with another family. This works especially well for parents working part-time who prefer Family Child Care or In-Home Providers.
Whether you have to work or just choose to work, putting a child in care during the day is not easy. And the task of finding a good child care provider can seem nearly impossible! But with patience and hard work, you can begin the path to great care for your children.
And remember, all aspects of parenting can be tough, but asking for help doesn’t have to be. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! For more information about finding child care and other parenting challenges, visit the SCAN website at www.scanva.org