Choosing the right child care can be one of the biggest decisions a working single parent may need to make. Doing some prep work and finding the best fit for your child will be well worth the time and effort you put into it and may save you from having to pull your child out of the situation if it is not working and quickly finding another sitter so that you can make it to work the next day. Choosing and maintaining the right childcare is a continuous process of clear communication to make sure your child is getting the care that he or she needs.
Some tips for selecting the right child care include:
• Always visit the facility whether it is a home setting or facility. Try to visit several times before making the choice at different times of the day such as meal time, nap time and play time. Observe the children who are there already-Do they look happy? How do the teachers or other staff speak to the children?
• Try to visit more than one facility so that you can see the differences and decide which philosophy or core values are better suited to your situation. Take notes so you don’t have to try to remember which facility provides the things you really liked best.
• Determine whether or not you will tell the childcare provider that you are a single parent. In most cases this helps the provider to better understand the unique needs of your child. In some cases where the other parent does not have current visitation rights, the provider must be informed in order to make sure the non-custodial parent does not gain visitation privileges at the center or try to take the child with him or her. Watch for body language changes or reactions like lost eye contact or change in demeanor to help determine if this person or facility will be single parent friendly.
• Know your child’s personality. Does she get along well with others and thrive with many friends? Then a larger center might fill her social needs. Is she more introverted? Then a small home daycare setting might be more ideal. Putting your energetic son into a daycare center that emphasizes sitting doing craft projects for long periods of time and has very little playground space might not be the best situation for your child.
• Make sure to find out if the fees include meals and snacks or if you will need to provide those items. Also if your child has allergies or special dietary needs, make sure that you will not have to pay extra for special food items that are not on the menu.
• Check to ensure that the posted state license and or registration are up to date and current.
• Talk to other parents that you know. A word of mouth referral is usually better than walking in to a home day care or facility where what you see during your initial tour may be different than the day to day operations.
Remember no matter how much homework you do, still listen to and/or observe you child as much as possible after you pick them up or arrive home if you decided on in-home care. Look and listen for real signs that the situation is either great or not ok at all and everything in between. One mom was referred to a daycare facility by her best friend, who knew the owner through church. The mom being ever cautious and careful had a background check performed that showed nothing, called and talked at length to the provided references, and yet one of the daycare employees was being physically and verbally abusive to the child. If this mother had not listened to her daughter, the abuse might have gone on much longer.
Iowa State University has a nice checklist that you can print out and take with you when visiting or calling a potential childcare provider.