There are few moments harder for a parent than leaving your baby or toddler at child care for the first time. Your stomach may clench with nerves, your head may swim with doubt. No one, you tell yourself, knows your baby like you do.
But if you’ve found the right place, you can have peace of mind knowing your little one is growing, thriving and learning while you work or go to school.
“This is one of the first and most important decisions you make in your child’s life because we know the first five years are so important,” says Jennifer Coleman, a program officer with Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County.
Quality infant and toddler care, with low child-to-teacher ratios, is always the hardest type of child care to find. That means expectant parents need to start looking before their baby is born, Coleman says.
Here are 10 more tips to help you find the right care for your family:
- Reach out for help: The Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County has a Child Care Resource & Referral team set up to answer parents’ questions about local child care, including help paying for care. The team can narrow your search for child-care locations. For more information, call 561.514.3300.
- Check the license: Before you visit any child-care site, make sure it’s licensed. Do not consider unlicensed child care settings! Contact the Florida Department of Children & Families, which provides licensure information, as well as the child-care site’s most recent inspections.
- Consider the type: Think about what type of child care setting you would like for your child. You can choose a child-care center or a school-based site, where children are cared for in groups based on their age and by a required number of teachers or caregivers. Or you can choose a family child-care home. This is where a licensed professional cares for about four to six children (who could range in age) in his or her own home.
- Ask for a tour: Most child-care locations will give you a tour even if you drop in unexpectedly. For that first visit, though, you should call and schedule a time to sit down with the owner-operator/director and get a full tour. That way you have time to look around rather than risk having a rushed meeting.
- Visit again: If you are seriously considering a child-care site, visit several times and spend some time in the classroom where your child will be. Watch the teacher-child interaction. Do you see a nurturing relationship? Do you feel good about what’s going on in the classroom?
- Trust your gut: You know what’s right for your child. Ask questions if you see, hear or even smell something that gives you pause. If questions linger, then the child-care site isn’t right for your family.
- Ask about turnover: Low staff turnover, meaning staff stay for a long time rather than leave for another job, can indicate strong leadership and a happy work environment. High staff turnover, where staff come and go often, can be bad for your child’s development because children need time to bond with caregivers.
- Consider the leadership: Who greeted you at the door? Who gave you the tour? Will that person be responsive to your child’s needs or there to answer questions if you have a concern?
- Aim for an open-door policy: You shouldn’t have to make a formal appointment or ask permission to see how your child is doing. Make sure the child-care site you choose welcomes your involvement and allows you to visit any time during the day.
- Compare sites: Can’t decide which site to choose? The Florida Office of Early Learning has created a checklist (click here for English | click here for Spanish) for you to compare child-care sites side-by-side.
Remember, finding the right child-care program can take time, so try not to make a rushed or panicked decision.
“You need to visit multiple times and you need to visit multiple types of child-care programs to really feel out what you like,” says Coleman of Children’s Services Council. “It’s very rare that you go to buy a home and you buy the first one you see. This decision is infinitely more important than the decisions you make in buying a house.”