by Brenda Nixon
Child care is becoming a critical issue for parents. Some 64 percent of mothers are now employed outside the home, yet only two percent of employers offer on-site daycare centers.
A 2000 Census Bureau report shows more mothers are returning to the labor force within a year of giving birth. As a result, someone other than Mom is routinely caring for more than half the babies under a year of age.
If youre looking for quality child care, shop around as carefully as you would for any other major investment. From safety and setting to staff and story time, here are the key elements of quality care. Look for a center or private home where:
Its generally clean, well lit, and ventilated. You might find the play area cluttered with toys but it should still look and smell clean. A well-lighted play area promotes your youngsters eye-hand skill. Good ventilation prevents recycling the same old germs.
Parents feel comfortable asking questions. If you ask several questions and the caregivers seem offended or avoid your inquisition, leave! When they are knowledgeable and proud of the facility they will be eager to offer information.
Parents are told to drop in anytime. You want to make sure that caregivers welcome parents for lunch, special activities, or just to observe.
Parenting literature and child development resources are available. You want your tot in an environment where parent education and professional growth are encouraged.
Toys and play equipment are child sized, age-appropriate, and regularly maintained and cleaned. Observe, but also ask about cleaning practices.
Pictures and room decor are placed on the childrens eye level. Remember this is a place for children, not adults.
Adult turnover is low. A stream of new caregivers is disturbing to young children. It could signal that a problem exists between staff and the director, a problem that trickles down to your child.
Children are touched appropriately, frequently and in positive, affirming ways. Children need to be touched, even if its a pat on the back, or holding hands during games.
Each child is addressed by name. There should be minimal use of group terms such as babies, kids, or the infants.
Caregivers are trained in early childhood education. Degreed or not, they should be participating in continuing education.
Theres a low adult/child ratio. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) recommends at least one caregiver for every
four infants (birth to 12 months)
five younger toddlers (12 to 24 months)
six older toddlers (2 to 3 years)
Smaller groups promote more positive interactions and more individualized curriculum.
Childrearing and discipline philosophies are similar to your own. You want to leave your child in an environment consistent with your home discipline. Ask what if questions to be sure.
Sign-in and -out policies are enforced. Especially if you leave your little one in a large center with lots of foot traffic, security precautions are a must.
Its either certified or licensed by your state. Certification or licensure gives you a minimum health, safety, and nutritional standard not a guarantee. Ive known some licensed facilities that I wouldnt leave my dog at. Be aware that certification or licensure does not limit curriculum; church-run facilities can be licensed and still teach religious curriculum.
A word to the wise: Be wary of the caregiver with a Honey, Ive been tending kids for 20 years and I know all there is to raising babies! attitude. A caregiver worth her salt and your money needs to learn about your child and continually sharpen care-giving skills.
Finally, check with your local heath department and Better Business Bureau to see if the place youre considering has a record of complaints.
Research proves that parents have an important influence on their childs development, regardless of how much out-of-home care children receive. Whether you are at home or work outside the home, you are still your childs most important teacher.
Brenda Nixon is a freelance writer and the author of Parenting Power in the Early Years (Wine Press Publishing, $12.95).