Parenting 101: How to Find Good Child Daycare
Picking a great daycare shouldn't be that hard
Among the most nerve-racking parenting experiences is dropping one's child off in daycare for the first time, no matter if the child is two-years-old or six weeks old (the minimum age many daycare facilities will accept a baby). In many cases, because of the competitive nature of many daycare facilities, a parent leaves not knowing whether they've dropped their child off at a good daycare or a bad daycare.
Despite the abundance of daycare facilities, it's of the utmost importance to separate the good from the bad and to spend some time researching these facilities before enrolling your child in one. By doing a little research and asking the right questions, you should have no problem enrolling your child in daycare that will be rewarding for both your child and you.
So how do you know whether a daycare is good or bad? Obviously, parents should do research on various daycare facilities and find out everything they can. That being said, some parents live in areas where the competition for daycare is intense and they don't always get their child into the daycare of their choice. In other places, there are simply more kids than there are spots, so parents are forced to park their kids in second and third-rate facilities. Parking one's child in a crappy daycare feels like the parenting equivalent of euthanizing one's pet. It sucks.
Since my wife and I had about the worst experience with the first daycare we tried, I thought I would pass on the tale of that experience and hope that it might help other parents identify red flags and prevent them from going through the parenting nightmare we went through. Here's our story:
When we learned we were pregnant the first time, we began researching daycare options, knowing that we'd be putting our baby in daycare full-time once he got to be about four months old. My wife and I both work and we couldn't afford for one of us to stay home. We applied to our top two choices and waited several agonizing months during pregnancy only to learn that neither had a spot for us when we needed it. The first never actually called us back, just took our $50 and that was apparently it, while the other took our $50 and informed us that they simply didn't have a spot, but might have one at a later date.
Because these were two of the top-rated daycare options in our area, we were then forced to move to plan B and get a spot wherever we could. This is probably an unfortunate red flag. Much like restaurants that have empty seats all the time, daycare facilities that have open spots all the time likely have some flaws. We didn't really think much about this at the time since we were desperate. They told us they had a spot and we took it. The best thing about it was that it was on my way to work and in a good neighborhood.
The two immediate indications that something might not be quite perfect at this daycare was that the director was about twenty-five and there were very few employees there who had been there for a number of years. One of the things we noticed at the other daycare where we applied was that many of the employees had been there for many, many years, indicating a high level of job satisfaction and experience. At this daycare, no employee had been there for more than four years and most had just started or had been there less than two years, indicating a high-rate of turnover, which could be an indication of poor working conditions or poor management.
Unfortunately, we had no choice. It didn't look that bad. However, there were a couple of quick clues that should have made us worry, but we were new at this whole parenting thing and didn't know any better. The first was that the sleeping beds were not separated from the rest of the room in the infant room. Now, this isn't exactly a non-starter, but it seemed weird. In fact, the beds were right near the entrance. There was also virtually no air conditioning in the room. Some might argue that learning to sleep with a lot of noise can be good for infants and sometimes it is, but our son didn't sleep when he was there.
The next problem that came up was that the staff immediately began working against us and suggesting things that seemed to be for their convenience. My wife was insistent on breast-feeding, but the staff seemed barely supportive. They were immediately unhappy with the amount of milk we were sending in. Not knowing any better and only going on what we read, we assumed the amount of milk my wife produced would be enough (and normally it is). They wanted more solely for the reason that they attributed crankiness to hunger while at the same time barely getting him any nap during the day. One worker even went so far as to suggest she give my son, who was four months old, water. No parenting or child rearing book recommends this.
While my son wasn't moving on his own, he always seemed to be in the same spot every day, which seemed odd. I'm sure they moved him, but it was still strange.
Things got worse the harder time they had with my son, who hardly seemed much trouble at all to us. While he rarely slept for more than twenty minutes for his naps, they basically claimed we were starving him and demanded we provide more milk or supplement with formula. When we refused, they actually called social services on us and called our doctor behind our backs. One of our best meetings ever was with the social services lady who was appalled at the entire thing and said we were doing exactly the right thing. She certainly wasn't the generalization of the social services worker one sees in the movies.
It wasn't long thereafter that we were fortunate to be able to switch our daycare. The new one had people who had been there many years and they were loving and supportive and their communication skills made the other daycare look like a communist newspaper. It was probably the best decision we've ever made with our son and we've been happy there ever since.
So, to summarize, what are some red flags for daycare:
- Open spots are readily available when spots are not open in other daycare places close by.
- The director of the facility has little experience.
- The facility has a high turnover among its employees (or there are few employees who have been at the daycare a long time)
- The caregivers tend to work against you instead of with you (i.e. they try to encourage or pressure you to do things for their convenience)
- Your child appears to be in the same spot all day.
- The sleeping facility is not separated from the rest of the facility.
- The caregivers recommend certain things you know to be false.
- Bad communication.
- Does not have sufficient ratings from daycare rating agencies.
- Parents are reluctant to talk about the place or finding parents to talk about the facility is difficult.
I hope this story and these details, albeit not comprehensive by any means, can help other parents make informed choices when it comes to daycare.
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If you want to be nostalgic about parenting, go right ahead. That doesn't change the fact that much of parenting sucks. It sucks now. It will suck fifty years from now.