Choosing the daycare for your baby can be an overwhelming process. You are going to trust these people with the person who means more to you than anyone else in the world. Where do you even start to find the right person? How do you make sure they are safe?
I spent many years working with children as a teacher and as a daycare provider. I realized early on that many parents had no idea where to start when they were looking for a daycare for their new baby. Since they didn’t have the information they needed, they often ended up looking too late, or finding a daycare that they thought would be good, but then realizing it wasn’t a good fit at all. It doesn’t have to be hard though, you just need to know what to look for, and what to ask.
First of all, if you are looking for a daycare for a new baby or young infant, you need to start looking as early as you can. 2-3 months before your due date is a great time to start looking. Most daycares have only a few spots for infants, and these are in high demand. Looking early allows you to make a reservation at your first choice childcare so that you can ensure a spot will be open for your baby. Ideally you will have a place scheduled for the baby before s/he is born. You won’t want to spend the precious time you have on maternity leave in search of childcare. If the daycare of your choice does not have any openings for the time you are looking for, get on a waiting list, things often change quickly at daycares. Make sure they know when you want to start. While most daycare facilities do not have fees for their waiting lists, most have fees to hold a spot for your child. They do this because keeping a spot open decreases the amount of money they have coming in. Expect these fees to run from a couple of weeks paid ahead of time to actually paying full price as if your child was attending.
Decide what you are looking for. The first step in finding a great childcare situation is to decide exactly what you are looking for. Do you want a large daycare center, a small home daycare, another mom to watch the baby, a nanny or nanny-share? There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these, so make sure you do your research and know what you are looking for.
Do research, look at daycare websites for those facilities that have one, talk with other parents, find ads in the newspaper, on craigslist, ask your pediatrician. You’ll want to find about 3-6 daycares to call initially. If you are having a hard time finding facilities, call your city or county’s licensing board and call them, they can usually either refer you to someone who has a list, or give you names and numbers of local facilities.
Once you have 3-6 options, it’s time to start narrowing them down. Give them a call and speak with them o the phone. Ask them a few questions. Some great things to find out over the phone are:
Do their hours fit with yours?
Do they have openings or expect to have openings when you will be needing care?
How many people work at their facility?
How many children would be around your child?
Are they in your budget? Some small daycare facilities are rather put off by this question, worrying that parents are more concerned about the cost than the quality of care. For that reason, I suggest you leave this question until near the end of the conversation. If you are ready to consider going to the daycare for a tour, you can say “So that I don’t waist either of our time, can you tell me what your charge for an infant?”
You can also leave this question until the tour, but you might find the perfect daycare only to realize it is totally out of your price range.
If you feel comfortable with the daycare and it seems like it would be a good fit for your family, schedule a tour and interview. This will give you a chance to look around the facility and to ask a lot more questions. A good daycare should have values similar to your own. If you believe in sleep training, you’ll want a daycare that does too. If you believe that a baby should be responded to every time it cries, a daycare that sleep trains will be a nightmare for you. Be sure to ask about how they handle toddlers and toddler discipline too. Remember, in a year your baby will be a toddler, and you won’t want to have to start the search all over again.
Make sure you like the person or people who will be taking care of your child. Not only will you be working closely with this individual, but your child will be spending a lot of time with them. Children pick up things from those who care for them. If you do not like this person, you may find your child picking up mannerisms or attitudes that you do not like.
Once you think you have chosen a good provider. Call your local licensing bureau. Make sure they are licensed (individual nannies or home providers that only watch one child’s family will not be able to license). Ask if they have any complaints, injunctions or other issues that you should be aware of and if they are up to date on their fingerprints. If you are going with a person who does not need a license, ask for a fingerprint clearance. Make sure that all of your childcare providers are CPR and First Aid Certified for BOTH adults and children.
Remember, you won’t find a daycare provider that is exactly like you, but you do want to find someone who is a good match for you. When you do this, you’ll know your child is in good hands. You’ll have a provider you can trust and your baby will flourish.