When both parents work outside the home, choosing a child care provider is a major concern. The first choice is whether to go with in-home care (such as a nanny or au pair) or care outside the home. If the latter, you must decide between care in a provider's home or a day care center. But regardless of setting, certain considerations are a constant:
First, consider licensing and accreditation. A licensed facility must meet minimum standards established by the State Department of Human Services. All programs that serve children more than 15 hours per week must be licensed. Home-based care givers can also be licensed, though it is not required. Licensing standards cover health and safety, adult-child ratios, training, equipment, daily program, nutrition, behavior and guidance.
Accreditation standards go beyond licensing. An accredited program has passed rigorous national screening either by the National Association for the Education of Young Children or the National Association for Family Child Care. Accreditation is voluntary. Accredited caregivers may have more knowledge of children's needs because of the training requirements.
Once you have a list of potential providers it is essential to interview them and visit their facility. Following are examples of the kinds of questions to ask:
* How long has the provider been caring for children?
* What is the their educational background?
* How many children are in care? What are their ages?
* What kind of background checks are done on staff?
* Are parents welcome to drop in unannounced at any time?
* What is the program's philosophy?
* Is there a planned curriculum? If so, ask for examples.
* What is the usual daily routine?
* How are children disciplined?
* How would the provider handle a child who refused to take a nap?
* What would the provider do if a child hit or bit her?
* What are the standards for meals and snacks?
Observe the environment, staff and their interactions with the children. Are staff fully engaged with children? Do they seem to enjoy their work? How do they respond to children's needs? What do they do when a child is acting inappropriately?