It is crucial to choose high-quality care for your child. Knowing your child is well taken care of will give you confidence and peace of mind.
First, evaluate your family's needs:
- How old is your child? If you have more than one child, do you want them in the same program? Does your child have any special needs or requirements?
- What is your child's developmental level? What sort of environment would enhance his development?
- What is important to you in a care setting? What age grouping do you want your child in? Would you like a program based on educational and/or physical activities? What kind of discipline philosophy would you like the program to adhere to?
- How much are you willing to spend?
- When do you need care? How consistent or flexible is your schedule?
- How is your child going to get to and from child care?
Next, consider what kind of child care you are interested in. There are three major types:
- In-home care by relatives or child-care providers
- Family child care provided in a neighbor's or relative's home for a small group of children
- Center-based care provided in a child-care center or preschool
Choosing between these options is a subjective decision. Remember, that you know your child's character and needs better than anybody else. Therefore, as the parent, you are the best able to determine which environment is best. Some parents find that the best solution for their families is to combine several types of care. For others, one specific type of care is preferred.
Once you have decided what kind of care is right for you, you'll need help finding care.
- In-Home Care
This kind of care typically involves parents hiring another adult to care for their child in their home. In-home providers do not have to be licensed, and there are specific tax and employment rules that apply. Both nannies and au pairs fall under the category of in-home care and can be found through agencies that will search for a provider according to your requirements. Au pairs are often exchange students from foreign countries who care for children in exchange for room/board and a fee set by an agency.
- Family Child Care
In this arrangement, your child will go to a caregiver's home along with a number of other children. Some family child care homes may be licensed, but many are not, so be sure to ask. Licensing rules and regulations vary from state to state. Many states impose them only if the provider cares for more than four children. Some require that providers have pre-service and ongoing training. All states set minimum health, safety, and nutrition standards for providers, but enforcement is often lax.
- Center-Based Care
Child-care centers are programs licensed by the state and operate in a facility designed specifically for the care of children. Size and the number of children can vary quite considerably — some centers being licensed for only a handful of children, while others may have over 100. Licensing regulations often require child-care centers to segregate infants, toddlers, and preschoolers based on the required staff/child ratios. Due to their "school-like" setting, children experience a significant amount of interaction with other children.
- Finding Care
Most parents don't know it, but nearly every community in America now has a central source of information about local child-care options. These services are called child-care resource and referral agencies, or R&R for short. There are now more than 400 R&Rs around the country. An R&R can help you locate licensed child-care centers, family child care, and even in-home caregivers within days, and also help you in evaluating the quality of care you find.
Also, check at work. Your company may offer corporate resource and referral services as an employee benefit. Or you can call Child Care Aware at 800-424-2246 or visit their Web site at www.childcareaware.org. This toll-free hotline and Web site can help you find your local child-care resource and referral agency.