Child Care Guidance
Introduction: Finding child-care that makes both you and your children happy is difficult. You’ll get lots of advice, including ours, but remember that the type of child-care and amount that you use is a very personal decision. Whether you believe in a group setting or in using a nanny, every choice has pros and cons and people feel strongly about their choice (we need to), so do what is best for you. Infant care is hard to find while good preschools are relatively abundant. Our goal is to provide tips to help you make an educated choice.
Before you get started: Try to clarify some basics before you start. Sometimes these basics will point you in a direction. What schedule do you need, how early, which days, how late, weekend availability, etc? How much can you afford? Child-care is expensive. If the expense exceeds your income, you will need to think hard about the benefits of working and how they weigh against the cost and what I call “hassle factor.” When do you plan to start care? Some centers have up to a year waiting list especially for infants. Do you want/need your children driven?
Types of child care: There are very different types or settings for child-care. These are:
- In home-This is care provided in your home, by either a person who comes each day or by a “live-in.”
- Advantage: It is easy. You can leave your children in whatever state of dress/sleep they’re in. You can run out in the evening if necessary. Children have less exposure to infections. Children can be driven if necessary. They bond with one person.
- Disadvantage: You are at one person’s mercy both in terms of their reliability and how they treat your child and your home when you are not there. Children have less social interactions. If you have an au pair you may have homesickness and other adolescent issues to deal with.
- Family child care-This is care in someone else’s home.
- Advantage: There are small groups of children with one provider. There may be some government regulations in place. There may be a decrease in infectious exposures. You may have more interactions with other parents.
- Disadvantage: Again, a single provider leaves you at their mercy. Often there is a wide range of ages, especially if after school children are added making appropriate stimulation difficult. There may be limited training in caring for groups of children
- Group care-This would be a day care center or preschool.
- Advantage: Reliability. You know the schedule. All have government regulations in terms of safety, cleanliness, child/teacher ratio, sick policy, etc. Days are well structured (with plenty of time devoted to free play). Access to “extras” such as sports and creative arts. This can be nice so that home time is home time. Centers as well as schools often provide before and after care for school age children.
- Disadvantage: More infectious exposures to viruses. Infant care may be hard to find and often have long waiting lists because sibs take priority. Not necessarily a “homey” environment.
How do I find the right situation for me? The best way to gather information is talk, talk and talk. Ask your friends, family members and neighbors who they use. Remember that you’ll get lots of strong opinions. Make it clear you don’t want their provider, but maybe theirs has a contact for you. See what centers or homes friends use and why. Call the resource numbers provided here to see what is in your area or near work. Google day care centers and Cleveland and let your fingers do the walking. Visit a center or home. Consider advertising in your local paper or religious paper. Also consider bulletin boards at church or temple, the YMCA, community center or at colleges. If you use bulletin boards, provide tear off tabs. Be clear about your needs and be prepared to cross off the majority of those responding. And remember this is an ongoing process. What you decide now may not be what you do in the future, so be open-minded.
What do I ask?
In home – Direct your thinking to these questions: Will my child be safe? Will my child be stimulated and loved? Will my home be safe? If you use a nanny service, be sure to ask about up front fees, the training required by the nanny and the agency’s guarantee policy.
- Step 1 – Screening by phone
- What is your experience?
- How old are you (you may prefer young or grandmotherly)?
- Other basics as necessary (do you own a car etc)
- Does this person seem excited about the idea of spending time with your children?
- Does she seem upbeat?
- Does she speak English well enough for your comfort?
- Ask for two references and check them.
- Step 2 – Check references
- How long was she employed and why did she leave?
- What age children did she watch?
- Were they happy with her performance?
- Was she reliable and punctual?
- Step 3 – The interview
- Is she tidy, as if this interview is important to her?
- What would she do if your child acts up? Present her with a situation that may have happened recently to you.
- What are her feeding practices? Would she modify to fit your philosophy?
- Would she do any household tasks (laundry, start dinner, general picking up etc?
Keep the interview friendly. It should not be an interrogation. Remember this person will become part of the family, someone important to your children. Be very clear about your schedule needs and other household chores you would like. Do not hire someone who seems depressed. Remember, no one can replace you in your child’s eye.
Family Child Care -The key thing question is, “Will my child be loved and stimulated? Will she be safe?”
- Step 1 – Do a mini phone interview
- Call the provider to check on availability and waiting lists. Do a mini-interview. Again, if you don’t have a good feeling, don’t visit.
- Ask about numbers of children (there should be no more than three under two and a total of six). Ask about the spread of ages and after school children.
- Ask about licensure and training.
- Ask about daily schedule and stimulation including amount of television.
- Ask for references.
- Step 2 - Check references –see above
- Step 3 – Visit
- Does it seem clean and cheerful?
- Is there a place for naps?
- Is there adequate play space both indoors and out with good supervision?
- What do the children eat?
- What daily communication do you receive?
- What is her vacation policy?
- What discipline does she use?
- How much TV is watched?
- Does she seem happy?
- Can you stop in for an unannounced visit?
- What are the sick policies?
- What safety measures are in place such as smoke detectors or stair guards?
Group Care Facilities and Preschools – Again, the process is similar. Will my child be loved and stimulated? Will she be safe? Make sure to visit the facility. Try to get a feel for what it might be like to be a child in this setting. Do not be afraid to bring along a copy of this guide when you evaluate the facility. Remember it’s your child!
- Step 1 – Call the center and speak with the director
- What is the general philosophy of the center?
- Is the facility licensed or certified?
- How many children are cared for in the facility and what are their ages?
- How long has the facility been in operation?
- Can a list of 2-3 references with children in the facility for more than a year, be provided?
- Can parents visit whenever they wish without prior arrangements?
- What information is shared with parents? Will a regular progress report be issued?
- What is the availability in my child’s age group?
- What is the child-care training and experience of the director and staff?
- What is the staff to child ratio?
- How many primary caregivers will a child have each week?
- What is the staff turnover ratio? Why?
- Step 2 – Call the references
- Step 3 – Visit
- What is the daily schedule?
- Do the caregivers teach as well as care for basic needs?
- How is care individualized for each child?
- Are inside and outside play activities supervised at all times?
- How much of the time is spent watching television?
- Do older and younger children play together?
- Are parents encouraged to become involved in any activities?
- What kind of food is served if any? Can arrangements be made for a special diet?
- How does the center manage misbehavior or temper tantrums?
- What types of toys are available for play? Are they in good repair?
- Is there a quiet area that is large enough to accommodate all the children?
- Are there beds or hammocks available for resting?
- Is there an outside area available for play activities and are they safe?
- Are there smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and other protective devices?
- Are there regular fire drills?
- What sanitation procedures are followed for the children and staff?
- What medical care, routine and emergency, is available?
- What is policy on illness? At what point will parents be contacted?
- Can the staff administer medications? What about the use of Tylenol?
- Are all medications and poisonous materials locked up?
- Does the staff appear to enjoy caring for the children?
- Are staff members neatly dressed and clean? Is the facility neat and clean?
- Will the staff allow you to examine the entire premises?
- . Are the children happy?
1. Starting Point – This is a free phone referral service that helps families find the right center, home or other child care or early education program. Call: 216-575-0061 (Local) or 1-800-880-0971 (Toll Free). On the web, they can be reached at: http://www.starting-point.org/parents.html. Formed in 1990 on the recommendation of the landmark Cuyahoga County public-private initiative, the Child Day Care Planning Project, Starting Point works to:
- Link families with child care services
- Increase the supply of child care
- Improve the quality of child care
- Stimulate early education alternatives
- Plan child care and early education initiatives
- Address child care and early education issues
The agency serves Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga and Lake Counties.
2. Internet based search engines
Illness in the day care setting: The transmission of disease in day care setting is clearly dependent on the type of child-care arrangement. It seems only logical that the larger the group of children, the more likely it is that any particular child will contact an illness. Indeed, periodically there are reports in newspapers and magazines describing epidemics of diarrhea, lice, meningitis and respiratory disease. What has not been evaluated however is whether these same children who are at higher risk in the first few years, are less likely to develop similar diseases during the school age years. And who is to say that that would not be a reasonable tradeoff.
Each child-care program must have a policy on preventing and dealing with illness. As you observe the program, watch carefully to see if there is frequent hand washing with soap and water. Liquid soap dispensers should be available and sanitizing solutions should be available for treatment of common surfaces and toys. Check out the food preparation area. There should be a dishwasher for sterilization of reusable utensils. Dishtowels should not be utilized.
Each program should also have a policy of exclusion i.e. the types of illnesses that would preclude participation in the day care program. This policy should exist for any setting of 2 or more children and should be modified only on the advice of a physician. The policy should be in writing and should be made available prior to enrollment. You will be called frequently, to come pick up your child because he/she has been exposed to…. any number of illnesses. If you have any questions, please call and perhaps we can resolve the matter before you waste too many days of work.
Common exclusionary illnesses include 1) Conjunctivitis: inflammation of the conjunctiva or lining of the eye. This is commonly caused by a virus and is potentially contagious for a few days. If caused by a bacterium, it may be treated and rendered non–infectious within 24 hours. 2) Skin infections such as impetigo: such superficial infections require antibiotic therapy. 3) Diarrhea: particularly bloody diarrhea. Usually, this requires immediate removal from day care. But how diarrhea is defined is a good question to ask up front. 4) Rashes: chickenpox is a no-no, and anyone exposed is likely to develop the disease 10-14 days down the road. Measles is uncommon. In fact, the last case reported in the greater Cleveland area was in 1984. 5) Pinworms: unfortunately, this parasite has usually already infected everyone else and it is usually cheaper, and equally safe, to treat everyone. 6) Lice: another embarrassing disease, as common in upper class families as in lower class families. Colds, ear infections, sinusitis and many other diseases do not require exclusion from day care and many of the aforementioned illnesses can be cared for quite well without spread if the day care provider is interested in going the extra mile. Remember, day care providers make the policy; we don’t, so no matter what we say, you may not get your child back in.
Child Abuse Warning Signs: Unfortunately, we live in age where the physical and sexual abuse of children is commonplace and every parent must be on guard against this horrible, long lasting crime. The following is a list of clues to the presence of child abuse within the child-care settings.
- Unexplained or poorly explained injuries
- Injuries that are out of proportion to the child’s developmental stage i.e. a fractured leg in a newborn
- Stories of abuse told by the child
- Evidence of strapping or violent discipline
- Changes in childhood personality to any extreme
- Inappropriate aggressiveness or sexual play by the child
Make sure to instruct your child about body awareness as soon as he/she can comprehend the meaning of personal boundaries. Teach your child to tell all whenever someone tries to use violence or sexual advance. Call me, if there are any questions or suspicions. And if you are really frustrated, call 696-KIDS, the child abuse hotline, and they will help you investigate the situation. Unfortunately, the child abuse authorities have little power to stop or punish abusers. If you suspect abuse, get your child out as soon as possible and file a report.