Six Tips for
Finding the Best Child Care Provider
By Shay Bilchik
(ARA) - Every day, between 10
and 12 million children under the age of 5 receive full-time
or part-time child care, for which parents are spending $27 billion
a year. Shockingly, another 24 million school-age children who
are too young to stay home alone and need quality child care
before and after school while parents work, look for work, or
get job training, do not receive it.
All families, regardless of their
economic status, may have a hard time finding quality, affordable
child care. Findings in several national studies indicate that
the quality of programs varies from high (child care that is
truly growth-enhancing for children) to custodial (not harmful
to children, but not particularly nurturing, either) to harmful.
Good quality child care helps
children emotionally, socially, and intellectually. It equips
them to enter school ready and eager to learn. As parents search
for child care, they must be aware of the elements and indicators
of good quality. The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) offers
the following information to help parents as they look for the
best care for their children.
1) Finding child care takes time. Plan ahead and
start your search for a child care provider early. Avoid a situation
where you don't have a choice.
2) Family child care homes or child day care centers
should welcome visits from parents at any time of the day. It
is important for parents to visit more than once and at different
times during the day to get a complete picture of the home or
3) Does the provider offer a safe environment? Potentially
dangerous materials should be out of reach of children, electrical
outlets should be covered, equipment should be in good repair,
and outdoor play areas should have adequate and safe ground cover.
Ask to see the license and other required certificates (fire,
health, and building).
4) Observe interactions between children and the
teacher or provider. Are kids enjoying themselves? Are they happy
and involved in activities? Teachers should listen to children
and answer their questions, and pay attention to the children's
needs and wants. Activities should be geared for different ages
and abilities. What is the teacher to child ratio? The younger
the child, the smaller the group should be.
5) Find out about the teacher's or provider's experience.
What is the teacher turnover rate? How many teachers have college
degrees in early childhood education or other equivalent credentials?
Ask the teachers about the working conditions: are they happy,
do they plan to stay? For a family child care provider; ask why
they chose this career. Studies show that more providers who
have an interest in working with children and who treat the role
of provider as a profession offer better quality care.
6) Once a child is in a program, parents must continue
to be active participants. Make sure your caregiver is doing
what they agreed to, that your kids continue to be happy, and
that you feel comfortable with the situation. Remember, kids
learn what they live. If their child care environment is a good
one, they will learn.
More broadly, parents can and
should help improve the quality of child care in their communities
by demanding better licensing standards, regulations and monitoring
of programs. They can work to improve salaries for child care
teachers and require adequate credentials, support public funding
to help subsidize the cost of care for families who cannot afford
good quality day care, and ask their employers to become more
involved in supporting working families and child care.