This one is by reader request!
If you are looking for an in-home daycare, I would suggest you start in the phone book (or use google) to find out if there is a childcare council in the area where you live. These councils have listings of licensed daycare providers and can help you find one with openings and also give you tips on interviewing providers. If you are a low-income family, sometimes you can get your costs subsidized through the council. Also, some agencies require their providers to attend child development classes regularly in order to get referrals.
Prior to making phone calls, decide what you want in a daycare. If you have special circumstances, like cloth diapers or a policy against television, you’ll want to make sure to ask about those. There will be things on your list that you are willing to budge on, especially if you can’t afford your ideal daycare, but you need to know what those things are. When you call around, ask those deal-breaker questions right off the bat to save yourself time. Make in-person appointments with several providers who meet the basic criteria.
The questions you ask in the interview will vary depending on the age of your child(ren). Remember: no question is stupid, and don’t assume anything (this includes the idea that the licensing agency has signed off on everything going on in the center). I once assumed that a daycare provider, whom I met through a LLL group, knew the guidelines for storing and using expressed breastmilk but later found out that she was throwing my breastmilk out because she didn’t know heated milk could be reused. She turned out to have a lot of other problems, but I didn’t know because I didn’t ask enough questions!
Here are some basic questions:
What are your hours? What happens if I’m late dropping off or picking up? What is your vacation and sick policy? How much do you charge? Do you have an opening for my ___-aged child who needs care X days a week? These are the logistical questions that can eliminate many providers right off the bat.
Do you have experience with breastfed (or formula-fed) babies? Describe your child’s routine, and ask if the provider will be able to follow this routine or need to make changes. Also find out how you will need to transport your child’s food (some providers require you to provide several bottles with the milk in it, others will be fine with a large container from which they can prepare bottles).
How will you work with us when it comes time for solids/potty training/etc? Avoid providers who have a rigid timeline in mind – you want someone who will pay attention to your child’s cues and developmental readiness.
How much holding time will my child receive?
What are your nap routines and where will my child sleep? For infants, I would steer clear of schedulers. Also, kids will usually adapt to differences in routine between home and daycare, but it depends on your child’s personality and age.
What is your approach to discipline?
What age-appropriate activities do the kids participate in?
Is there a trial period? Sometimes the caregiver and child just don’t click.
What is the caregiver:child ratio? Make sure this is consistent with state laws, and consider whether your child will get enough attention. I personally feel that ideally there should be only one infant under 1 in care if there is only one provider.
You want a provider who most closely matches your own philosophy for caring for children. This person will be spending a large amount of time with your child, feeding, guiding and teaching, so make sure your family values are in alignment with theirs. Also, make sure you feel comfortable. Inevitably there will be something that comes up and causes you to question what happened during the day; as your child’s personal advocate, you need to be comfortable working through conflict and asking the difficult questions.
When you meet the provider in-person, try to do it as a family and go during the day so that you can observe the interaction with the children in care. There is nothing more telling than watching a provider break up a conflict or dealing with the constant interruptions from the kids during your conversation. A good provider’s attention will mostly be focused on the kids rather than you.
When Jack was 7 months old and we were looking for daycare, one of our visits led us to a grandmotherly type. Jack was a big baby and required lots of holding and rocking to sleep at that point. The woman had back problems and lived in a house with stairs. The kids napped upstairs. It was obvious that she would not be able to hold Jack often at all, and the thought of her carrying him up the stairs when it was time to nap was enough to make me worry. Then I noticed how quiet all of the kids were, how shy they all seemed; it was completely unnatural. When one of the children tried to ask the woman a question, she told her there would be no interrupting the adults and they would talk later. She then turned to me apologetically and told me the child was quite chatty. It would have taken her the same amount of time to answer the child’s question as it did to reprimand her, and the way she belittled the child’s age-appropriate curiosity right in front of her made it readily apparent that the provider was not in tune with the kids’ needs at all. I was not about to pay someone to damage my child’s self-esteem!
Don’t forget to check references, and walk away if it doesn’t feel right. You are the expert on your child and you don’t need a good reason to feel that a situation is not a good fit. It is difficult to listen to that little voice inside when you are also worried about getting to work to earn your livelihood, but do it anyway. When you go through the process of finding daycare, try to get a number of providers lined up in case something doesn’t go right with the place you choose. Hopefully you will find the perfect place and your child will grow up with the provider you choose, but if not you don’t want to have to scramble at the last minute and end up with a provider you didn’t have time to screen.
Anyone have anything to add?