Pre-mom me thought childcare would be easy.
Actually, I thought it would be so easy that I never really considered it at all.
Surely finding a place that worked for me and met my child’s need to feel safe and loved would be abundant. I mean, come on. Look at their little faces. Who wouldn’t just love our kids?
Boy, was I in for a rude awakening.
Challenges of Finding Good Quality Childcare
I had always assumed my sister would be my defacto childcare provider. She had been a stay-at-home mom until her own kids had grown up, and also took care of other children when her kids were in high school.
After she picked up and left town unexpectedly to live her new child-free life, here I was scrambling for childcare. The reality of how difficult finding quality childcare can be sort of just hit me smack in the face.
And it was a scary new reality.
The fact that a baby cannot talk is absolutely terrifying to many moms.
They can’t tell you about their day. Not how well it was or how bad it was. Not if they were fed on time or if someone screamed at them to shut up. Not if they were shaken or left in a dirty diaper too long.
And often times you don’t see the signs of this type of treatment until much after the fact (like a diaper rash that happens after a week or so of poor diaper practices).
Then other dynamics come into play. You may be limited to finding childcare in specific areas if you want to get to work on time. Or there’s a supply and demand issue, where there are more people in need of childcare than the area you live in currently has.
And that’s before we even get to the quality of childcare offered by the individual or business… Or the cost!
Phew. My head spins just thinking about it all.
Lessons Learned after Hunting for Good Quality Childcare
Initially, I did find a family friend that owned a small daycare to help out, but it was not ideal for me.
I needed my child (only had my eldest, Axel, at the time) to be in a warm and loving environment. But I also wanted him to be in a learning environment.
While my initial childcare provider did an excellent job taking care of his emotional and physical needs, educating little babies was not anywhere on her list of priorities.
Lesson #1 – Really think about every thing you want in a childcare provider, beyond just meeting your child’s basic needs.
After spending the year looking for a better alternative, I found a more balanced provider. But concerns grew with the location as well.
I did not connect with the director, who seemed only passionate about making money, not about educating and taking care of little ones. As a result, there was a considerable turn over in staff in the first year.
And then there was a concern about a recurring (though minor) skin infection on my son near the end of the year, that also showed up on other kids in the facility. Something about their health practices was a bit off, but I couldn’t quite put a finger on it.
So while my son was otherwise happy, loved, engaged, and physically well taken care of (aside from that skin issue), I again began the hunt for another place.
Lesson #2 – Gauge how invested the director or individual provider is about children and childcare. It considerably impact the care of your child in one way or the other.
By the time I had really acknowledged Axel’s speech delay, I was in the middle of trying to find a better daycare/preschool. Learning of this new challenge almost broke me.
It seems a bit dramatic and silly now, but I shed some real tears about failing my child. And my anxiety ratcheted up a million times more.
I had figured that by the time he was in pre-K, he would be able to tell me more about his day, and that we could branch out a bit and try different learning environments. Now I was extra worried.
His speech delay meant that other kids around him could do things that he couldn’t. How would he be treated? Would other little kids take advantage of him? Would teachers neglect him?
It was another layer of worry on my already long list, him being somewhat at a disadvantage compared to the other kids.
But instead of wallowing in sadness (which is hard not to do), I focused on learning how to be more logical about evaluating childcare facilities. I have learned to trust my instincts to tell me when I should pay more attention or when I am being to crazy. But at the time, I was such an emotional wreck that I really couldn’t tell up from down sometimes.
To balance your nerves, research proven indicators of good and bad childcare practices. In my case, I also figured out specific requirements regarding taking care of children with speech delay.
Doing both of these things actually helped balanced my nerves and guide my search.
Lesson #3 – Be flexible, and be ready to adapt to the ever-changing needs of your child—especially regarding childcare.
I will share resources at the end of this article of checklists you can use in your search as well. But first, let me tell about how I was able to finally nail down a childcare provider that worked for us.
A Helpful Process for Finding Good Childcare
Start with Community Reviews of Local Childcare Providers
To identify a good location for your kids, check your options on the following lists:
- Child Care Resource and Referral Agency:
LocalChild Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) Agencies Search Form
- Accredited Child Care Centers:
The National Association for the Education of Young Children
- Accredited Family Child Care Homes:
The National Association for Family Child Care
Afterwards, go talk to other parents. In my small community, businesses are not always on top of advertising their services. Truth be told, I have found the best childcare providers didn’t even have a website.
That may not be the case for you, but it is something to keep in mind.
So turn to other parents with kids both at your kids’ age and older to pick their brains. I strongly believe in living through the experiences of others, especially when it comes to my kids.
If I have 10 parents that tell me they removed their child from a location for poor practices, I remove the location from my list.
If I have another 10 praising a specific location, and especially if they can provide very specific thoughts as to why they liked the provider (like personalized experiences of how providers handled situations with their kids), then the school goes on my list of considerations.
Next, check the news and other government channels for any concerning reports regarding the locations you’re interested in. For example, you can select your state or territory on the Childcare.gov website to get inspection reports and other information about childcare in your area.
Feel Out the Area by Doing a Quick Drive-by
After you have your list, go visit the providers. But don’t go inside just yet.
Take a good look around the area. Is the individual or business in a good neighborhood? Is it easy and convenient for you to get to? Is it properly secured (gates locked, windows secured, door secured, etc.)? Are there any sketchy people around or tons of stray animals?
Trust your gut. If it feels like a good area, keep it on your list.
Scoring the First Official Encounter
Once everything looks good outside, then call the provider to see when I can come and pick up an application. How they respond in this process should give you a clue if you should go any further.
For example, if they just let me in a room with the kids, that raises my hackles. It makes me feel that anybody can just come in and gain access to my child—especially if they walk away and leave them unattended. I usually prefer for someone to secure the kids with another adult and then come and meet me in a separate area.
Also, consider reviewing the childcare laws in your area to figure out if the location you are visiting appears to be up to snuff.
Thoroughly Interview Your Childcare Provider
When you meet your provider, have a list of questions ready to ask. The more prepared they are to answer, the more confident you should feel about their business.
Ask them about their meal schedules and menu, disciplinary practices, and health codes. Ask them to see any documentation they have on file regarding their policies (like a handbook).
Share any specific concerns you may have (for example, a speech delay) and learn about how they will handle those challenges. Also, make your expectations very clear regarding your child to see if they are willing to live up to them, and to make sure you are on the same page.
Pay attention to their body language when they are answering questions, and definitely note whether or not you have a good or bad vibe. If you feel something off about the interaction, it is probably a clue that this place is not a good fit—if I can’t get along well with your child’s provider, then this is not someplace you want to be dealing with long term.
Do a Walkthrough of the Childcare Facility
Next up is the walkthrough. This should be offered (which is a good sign). If it is not, ask for one.
Ask to see every area of the school, from the classroom to the kitchen where your child’s meals will be prepared. Make sure that everything looks clean and organized.
Make sure the location is intentionally cultivated to be kid-friendly—that means it is bright, warm, colorful, and inviting. Does it look like some place your child would enjoy staying long periods at? Is there anything that may cause him harm (open outlets, sharp objects, unguarded sliding windows)?
If the provider doesn’t have pride in maintaining their facility and making it appealing to children, then I typically wouldn’t trust them to keep my kid safe, happy, and healthy.
Sit in on Your Child’s First Day at a New Daycare/Preschool
The first time you drop off your child to school, stay and monitor them for a bit before heading out. Not the whole day—they do need time to integrate into their new environment. But consider staying for at least 1 to 2 hours.
Pay attention to how the kids interact with each other. And observe how the provider handles any sticky issues between the kids. Do they get tense or aggressive? Do they raise their voice or seem extra annoyed and tired?
Check to see how comfortable your child appears to be. Sure they may not be ready for you to leave, but if you see them easily distracted by organized play and learning activities (like, they seem torn to leave you and leave their new friends), then they probably will be just fine.
You know your kid best.
And you will know when you can leave your child in the care of others. Just make sure you are not projecting your fears onto your child because it is you that will really miss them (and not so much the other way around).
Evaluating Your Child at Daycare or Preschool and After Pickup
After leaving on the first day, I personally check in by lunch to see how everything is going, and to make sure they know I will come and get my son if there is a major concern.
I feel like this serves to let them know that I am an attentive and no-nonsense parent. And the more I pay attention, the more they seem to pay attention (in a good, helpful way) to my child as well. So I really encourage this daily check-in at least for the first week.
When you pick up your child, ask about the provider how the day went. The more specific a provider is, the more you know that they were being actively involved in the childcare process. This is especially true if they can describe key and unique things about your child’s personality and behavior.
For example, my son hates leaving a play area without advanced notice and some type of countdown. One daycare provider noticed this (after trial and error) and worked it out perfectly. Hearing childcare moments like this warms my heart.
Also, make sure to ask your child about their day (even if they don’t understand you) and do a quick inspection for any cuts or bruises. Guage their response and observe how they interact when saying goodbye to staff and other kids. You can see if your child has been overly stressed all day or probably had a good time at the location.
Again, each child is different, but being an attentive parent means you are best equipped to decipher your child’s behavior.
Regarding checking for cuts or bruises—it is easier to bringer up concerns right away to show that something happened at the facility, not on your way home or at home.
List of Things to Consider When Choosing Your Childcare Provider
The actions above are all the things I still do for my son, and he is almost 10 years old. While the technique has changed a bit (for example, I ask him to share his concerns for the day rather than conduct a full body inspection), these steps still work to help me make sure that the location is still the right place for him to be.
Along with this process, you should create a checklist of important things to consider when choosing a childcare provider. Here are a few helpful ones to consider using:
- Childcare.gov Checklist including 15 “must-haves” questions regarding child health and safety, and quality of care
- ChildcareAware.org Checklist of 38 research-based indicators
- Gerber Life Safety Checklist (gerberlife.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/Daycare-Safety-Checklist.pdf) covering facility safety and health features
Finding quality childcare for your child can be a bit intimidating. For me, the three major lessons I learned were that:
- Childcare should do more than just provide your child’s basic needs, and you should define what that means for you (Lesson #1)
- The engagement and passion of your childcare provider is important; it should mean more than “just a business” to them (Lesson #2)
- Being flexible—expect that you probably may need to adapt your childcare hunt to your child’s ever-changing needs (Lesson #3)
After figuring this part out, and after much trial and error, the process I came up with to improve my childcare search were to:
- Start with Community Reviews of Local Childcare Providers
- Feel Out the Area by Doing a Quick Drive-by
- Scoring the First Official Encounter
- Thoroughly Interview Your Childcare Provider
- Do a Walkthrough of the Childcare Facility
- Sit in on Your Child’s First Day at a New Daycare/Preschool
- Evaluating Your Child at Daycare or Preschool and After Pickup
Using this process along with a checklist specific to my child’s needs, I have been able to successfully navigate the childcare hunt. I hope this helps you on yours as well.
So what about you? What tips and tricks have made your search for childcare a bit easier? Especially if you live in a very small community (like I do!)?
Comment below and let’s discuss!