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Cost, Safety, Location? What to Ask When Choosing Daycare

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Posted by Rachael Tom

If you need a daycare near you, you're probably wondering: What are the questions I should ask to find the right place for my child?

Choosing a daycare can be tough for parents and frankly there are a lot of things to consider. We try to help by walking you through the process.

In this article, we make it easy for you to choose the best child care for your family.

Use a Not-for-Profit Childcare Matching Service

First of all, where to even start to look for childcare? To start, we highly recommend using a not-for-profit childcare matching service.

Not-for-profit matching services have three big advantages:

family child care is affordable and trustworthy

Free. No Hidden Fees

Not-for-profits don't charge childcare providers to post their openings and they don't charge membership fees for parents either. That helps to keep childcare more affordable for working parents.

Sharhonda chose a family daycare through Carina, a not-for-profit childcare matching service. She said Carina helped her find a perfect daycare that's using excellent safety standards during COVID.

Listen to what she had to say about her experience:

 

Trustworthy, Licensed Care

All of the daycares on Carina are licensed. A childcare license means the daycare meets the state standards.

People, Not Profits

Finally, a not-for-profit childcare matching organization is about people, not profits. Not-for-profit means the group's mission and values come first, not CEO bonuses and shareholder profits.

Check out more about the big difference between not-for profit and for-profit daycare matching services.

 

7 Easy Steps for Interviewing a Childcare Provider

Good job! You've identified a few daycare options that seem pretty good. What's next?

Step 1: Write out the most important questions you have. We have some suggestions later.

Step 2: Text, email or call the daycare to set up an over-the-phone or in-person appointment.

If your area is under social distancing restrictions due to COVID-19, ask if you can meet over Facetime or Zoom. This is also a good way to get a virtual tour without taking any unnecessary risks.

Step 3: Bring your questions to the call or meeting.

Step 4: Ask them! It's ok to ask lots of questions. We're talking about the care of your child. So if anything is unclear, just ask again. Take notes! You'll thank yourself later.

Makes sense, right? You're interviewing someone for the most important job - caring, feeding, and keeping your children healthy, happy, and safe for hours a day.

Think back to a time when someone interviewed you for a job. Did they ask you some tough questions?

Of course they did. They wanted to hire the best person possible for the job.

Same here. You're the person doing the hiring; it's not rude to ask questions important to you or your child.

Good daycares expect parents to ask lots of questions, and they are happy to give you all the information you need to make an informed decision.

Step 5: Ask for a reference - the name and number of another parent who takes their child to that daycare. They should have the names and numbers of at least one parent who would recommend their business.

Step 6: Call the reference parent and ask about their experience.

  • How long have they been going there?
  • What's great about it?
  • What could be better?
  • Would they recommend this daycare to a friend or family member?

Step 7: You're ready to choose the best daycare for your family! Review your notes and make your decision.

 

What to Ask When Choosing a Daycare

Got your pen and paper? It's time to get your interview questions ready for those phone calls or meetings.

1. Where is the Daycare Located?

This is the first question to ask. For many parents, a daycare close to home makes the most sense. Others like a daycare close to their work or school.

In either case, you don't want to spend too much time traveling to drop offs and pick ups. More time in traffic means you're more likely to be late to work or school.

And more time in traffic equals less quality time with your family.

Search for daycares near your home or work now.

So be sure to be clear on the daycare's location - ask for cross streets if you don't know the location, or look it up on the Internet.

If you drive, ask about parking. Is street parking hard to find? Is there a child pickup zone?

If you take the bus or train, ask about the walk from the station. Are there any big hills or other barriers?

When you get there, are there a lot of stairs or other physical barriers at the daycare? This could be important if you or your child has a physical disability or if you're carrying a lot of bags.

2. How Much Does Childcare Cost?

For many parents this is the make or break question. Child care costs can vary by location, age of your child, and provider. For example, using an in-home family child care provider is frequently more affordable.

The average cost of daycare is $991 a month for infants and $847 a month for toddlers in the U.S. according to a 2019 report by Child Care Aware. Costs for daycare for preschool-age children are generally lower, averaging $771 a month for four-year-olds.

Infant care is generally more expensive than care for older children because well... little ones need more hands on care. Good thing they are so cute!

Licensed in-home family child care is generally more affordable than other types of child care. Remember how we said that not-for-profit childcare matching services like Carina don't pass fees on to parents? That's one of the reasons a family child care might be right in your price range.

Search for a family childcare near you.

If you have more than one child ready for daycare, ask if there's a sibling discount.

Also ask what's included in the fee. Does the monthly fee cover:

  • All meals and snacks
  • Supplies such as diapers
  • Special activities or classes

If you qualify for a government childcare subsidy or voucher, ask if the daycare accepts them. Some daycares have a limit on the number of childcare vouchers they accept. Search for your local childcare agency.

Check with your local government and your employer. Some states and employers have set up resources and programs to help essential workers access child care services at low or no cost during COVID-19.

3. What Ages, and How Many Kids, Are at the Daycare?

You may have two or more children who need childcare at the same time. Some daycare centers take only certain age groups such as preschoolers or babies only.

But there are others, like in-home family daycares, that accept a wide range of ages. At one of these your child may be able to go to the same family daycare for many years. That means 2 great things: 1) You don't have to search for new child care every year, and 2) Your child develops a caring, meaningful relationship with their daycare teacher.

This is important for child development. Going to the same place year after year helps children feel more happy, secure, and open to learning.

Many children love the reliability and routine of going to the same daycare from infant until they are ready for school.

a boyr shows off his finger painting at a 24-hour daycare

And they are very happy if their brothers and sisters can go to the same daycare with them. Plus, mixed age groups -- from infant to preschool to school age-- help children with their social skills.

The other important question is - how many children are there? Every child is different, and many adjust best at a child care where they can get one-on-one attention.

Listen to Helana, who has provided in-home family childcare for more than 16 years. She says they will love on your children as if they were their own.

 

At an in-home childcare, there's often just 2 or 3 children per teacher, which means your child will get the snuggles and smiles they need to feel safe and loved.

Some in-home family child cares can take 5 or 6, others are licensed to take at most 10 or 12 children at a time. That a very different experience than a big daycare cetner with 30-40 children.

4. Is the Childcare Open on Nights and Weekends?

Not everyone works Monday through Friday, 9 - 5. That's why quite a few in-home family child cares will take children when parents are working holidays, nights or weekends.

They feed children dinner and put them to bed on their regular schedules, ready to come home when their parents are off work.

When you contact a daycare, be sure to ask if they charge extra to take children overnight, allow late hours, or are open on weekends and holidays.

You may have other special questions to add here. You could ask whether the daycare is bilingual, is qualified to help children with disabilities, or meets your other community, ethnic, or religious requests.

If your child has food allergies or other health concerns, be sure to ask what steps they will take to accommodate your child.

5. Is the Daycare Licensed and Accredited?

Ask if the daycare is licensed by the state licensing agency. You can check on the status of the daycare's license and any issues by going to your local government website.

A childcare license means that daycare meets the state standards.

licensed family daycares are always checked for safety

To be licensed, a daycare must meet official standards, such as:

  • Health and Safety
  • Safe sleep practices
  • Caregiver to child ratios
  • Group sizes
  • Food preparation and serving
  • Staff training requirements
  • Sanitation
  • Emergency preparedness plans
  • Background checks for staff

Browse licensed childcares near you now.

Each state has different licensing standards. Ask about your state's licensing standards by checking with your local Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) agency. Search here for your CCR&R.

Some daycares are "exempt" - not required to be licensed - because they accept a very small number of children. They should still meet health and safety standards. Ask what they do to meet them.

Some in-home or family daycares list specialties or accreditations, meaning they meet certain requirements above state licensing requirements.

find affordable child care services with licenses and accreditation

For example, an accreditation from the National Association for Family Child Care means the childcare provider meets a long list of education, care, and safety standards.

There are several national organizations that accredit childcare programs. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC) are the two most common childcare accrediting organizations.

6. What Are the Daycare's Health and Safety Precautions?

When you visit the daycare - even if on video chat - take a look around. First, you'll get a gut feeling. Listen to it! Once it passes the gut check, pay attention to the details.

Some basic things to check for:

  • A clean environment in good condition
  • Safe cribs for each infant
  • All electrical outlets are covered
  • All dangerous objects like medications, cleaning supplies, and kitchen utensils are out of the reach of children

Ask the director if:

  • The daycare follows  safe sleep guidelines
  • Someone is present at all times who has been trainined in pediatric first aid and CPR
  • There is a first aid kit available
  • Staff know how to respond to allergic reactions

the best daycare center near you is safe during COVID

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it's especially important to review safety measures. Is the daycare taking steps to prevent the spread of coronavirus? They should be screening staff, children and parents for fever and symptoms. They should also have a clear plan for frequent disinfecting and cleaning all toys and surfaces.

Learn more about important health and safety trainings for adults working in child care programs.

So what do you think - are you ready to interview a childcare near you now?

If you have questions, send an email to childcare@carina.org. We'd love to hear from you.