How to Choose Quality Childcare for your Baby
How to Choose Childcare for your Baby
It goes without saying that one of your most important decisions as a parent is to choose a quality childcare, preschool and/or babysitter. After all, while you may believe that you will never leave your baby's side after he or she is born, eventually you may want time to work out, lunch with friends, or have an evening out on the town. For those parents that choose to go back to work after a baby is born, the decision can be even more difficult. What will work best? An in-home daycare, an institutional daycare, or a nanny? Of course, one of the major factors in this decision is the cost of each option.
Generally speaking, there are about five alternatives for childcare:
- Leave your baby with your spouse or partner only
- Have your child cared for by relatives
- Hire a nanny to care for your baby
- Take your child to an in-home childcare setting
- Take your child to an institutional childcare setting
There are benefits and drawbacks to each of these options. Only you can decide what is best for your child and your family.
Excerpt from Daddy Day Care Movie
Options for Quality Childcare
With four children, its safe to say that we've tried nearly all of these options. For reliability, budget and overall satisfaction, my money is on the institutional daycares. Now, that may not sound like the best choice for novice parents, but it can work well. The following is a summary of the pros and cons of each choice.
1. Spouse at home. This may work well for first-time parents, those with a reliable, satisfactory income for the working parent, and those with only one child at home. Suffice it to say, if both parents have been working up until the baby is born, the pay cut will be very obvious and potentially difficult, especially if the child is your firstborn. Planning and budgeting ahead will definitely make a difference. Most financial planners will say to have 1-2 years of salary set aside in advance of a baby being born (for the future non-working parent). Remember, of course, that if you continue to add to your family, or if there are medical issues, the costs will increase. In the long run, it may not be as feasible as it first appeared on paper. If you can manage to make it work, though, there is nothing like the time you will spend with your baby during the first few years of his or her life!
2. Family member as caregiver. To those starting out, this may seem like an excellent way to save money and have the security of the baby or child being cared for by those truly invested in his or her future. The only problem is that it may backfire. Even a doting grandmother may get burned out day after day of childcaring and you don't want to waste that capital. If your mother or sister wants to travel, or has other obligations come up (i.e. doctor's appointments of their own, or other family emergencies) then you are left without a caregiver on that day, or days. If that caregiver has children of their own, those responsibilities can interfere with the work they have accepted for you. Of course, if your family member is sick themselves, then they will be unable to adequately care for your baby. It is critical to have backup childcare.
Tips to Picking the Best Daycare
Nanny or In-Home Daycare Options
3. A Nanny. Hiring a nanny worked out very well for us in a number of respects. If our child was sick, the nanny would still come to our home to help out. At daycare centers, a sick child usually means at least 1 day at home. A baby must be fever-free for 24 hours before returning to childcare.
The downsides of a nanny include: (1) paying income taxes on their salary (you must do this or risk significant penalties from the IRS); (2) if the nanny is sick, you have no childcare; (3) there is no one to "spell" the nanny and give him or her a break from the demands of watching the kids: and (4) you have to trust that the nanny will educate, inspire, and entertain your children. Our nanny was very instructive, but did not have a desire to take our twins out of the home to other educational venues, including the zoo, swimming, or playdates. Consequently, the twins spent a lot of time inside our home and not out and about, as I imagined they would. Once the children were preschool-aged, we converted back to a full-time daycare/preschool arrangement.
Those parents that have found a quality nanny are supremely satisfied. At times, the nanny practically becomes part of the family. Traveling along on vacations to help with childcare is another service some nannies provide, if you can afford it!
Using a nanny service can help with the screening process, but you'll have to pay an application fee and/or a finder's fee to the agency. An au pair is another similar option where a younger woman or man from a foreign country will come to live in your home and care for your baby. Room and board is included in the arrangement, so you will have to consider the potential loss of privacy. Screening au pairs can also be done through an agency. But make sure in either situation that you do your own background checks. If your gut tells you that the fit is not right, then move on to another candidate!
A final word about nannies is to be certain to draft up a contract setting forth your expectations regarding childcare, hours, vacation, etc. It doesn't have to be an overly legalistic form, but do make sure that both parties (you and the nanny) sign it. Keep a copy for yourself so that you can refer to it in the future.
4. In-home Daycare. This is the one option that we have never used. First of all, the staff is much more sparse and cannot take over to allow employees breaks or time off, as can happen with daycare centers. Second, the lead caregiver usually has a child, or children, of their own, and thus is less invested in yours. Your child may theoretically receive more attention at an in-home daycare than an institutional one, but the trade-off is longer hours for the caregivers and potentially less patience at the end of the day. We looked into a number of in-come daycare options, but were never overly impressed with the ones that we viewed. Of course, you may have found an excellent in-home daycare for your baby. Great options do exist. It may just take longer to find the perfect fit for your family.
Among the considerations to make with an in-home daycare, one of the most important is to be sure that the operator is licensed through the state. Not just a business license - a daycare operator must have a specific license allowing them to care for children other than their own. Ask to see a copy and make sure it is current. You can also investigate to see if any complaints have been filed against the potential caregiver.
The quality of in-home daycares can vary from region to region. Generally speaking, they are less expensive than institutional daycare centers. Whichever situation you feel most comfortable is a very individual decision. Follow your gut feeling, do your homework, and you will likely be pleased with the results.
5. Institutional Daycare. We have been pleasantly surprised by the quality and ease of this option, starting over 10 years ago with the birth of our first son. At that time, full-time childcare for an infant was only $800/month. Now, it can range anywhere from $1000/month to $1500/month or more, per child! Many centers offer tuition breaks for additional children. Ask about this upfront if you will be having another baby in the future.
One of the best aspects of the institutionalized daycare is fact that the staff has breaks throughout the day and are usually not there more than 8 hours a day, total. If one person is overwhelmed by the screams and neediness of an infant, another staff person is there to take over. We noticed this especially when it came to feeding and changing diapers.
As with any daycare situation, you need to be very careful in your selection of a daycare center. Many will be accommodating of requests to visit the center on a number of occasions to watch the staff's interaction with the children. You'll want to make sure that the daycare center screens their employees with background checks and references. Another important factor is the cleanliness of the center overall, and safety measures that they take. Check the toys and see if they appear broken or unsafe. Make sure that the center washes the toys on a regular basis to prevent transmission of infections or disease.
One of the critical questions is to ensure that the appropriate ratios of caregivers to children are met. This will be regulated by your state's law. However, you personally may not be comfortable with a 1:4 ratio in the center's infant room. That means one caregiver to four babies. It may be difficult to meet the high needs of an infant with respect to holding, changing, feeding and soothing them in such a situation. The older your child gets, the ratios will increase. Toddlers may have a 1:6 ratio, and preschoolers as high as 1:8 ratio.
Before You Choose Childcare
There are many good childcare options available to choose from. The key is to start your search early, before your baby is born.
Take your time reviewing and screening potential caregivers. Review records of an in-home or institutional daycare before leaving your baby in their care.
And above all, make sure that you believe in your heart that your baby or child will thrive in the environment.
© 2008 Stephanie Hicks
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