Whether you are an expectant parent, a new parent, or a parent returning from leave, if you have decided to put your infant in group care, you might be feeling trepidatious about choosing the right place for your baby. Chances are, your bundle of joy has become the center of your life, and you have a huge stake in getting this right. As an insider, I’m going to help narrow down some questions to ask and things to look for. Get ready for the scoop from a professional who has worked with young children and their families for over two decades.
1) Think ahead Pre-Covid, waitlists for childcare could fill up years in advance. In fact, I once had an expectant mother who was so anxious to get on our list that she told me she was pregnant before she told her parents. Quality childcare centers often have extensive waitlists, so you should plan on narrowing down your top choices long before your baby needs care. It’s best to get started even before your baby is born. Calling centers, scheduling tours, completing paperwork, and paying associated fees, can all take time. It’s a good idea to know what you are looking for and get on some lists as soon as you are comfortable sharing your good news.
2) Schedule/flexibility One of the main factors when choosing childcare will be the hours you need care, your schedule, and any flexibility on your side or the providers. Hours of operation, holidays, exclusion for illness, and late fees are all factors you need to consider. Licensed childcare centers are typically using illness exclusion policies determined by state licensing regulations, so try to be understanding if your child is sent home due to illness. Be sure to ask how quickly you must pick up your child if they are sent home sick for the day. In addition, ask about how you will be notified about injuries. When your baby begins pulling herself up or taking her first steps, she will inevitably get some bumps and bruises, ask what steps will be taken if she is hurt during the day.
3) Cost Although I wish cost were not a determining factor, the truth is that good childcare can be prohibitively expensive. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the average cost of infant care in Washington state rose 55%. Currently, infant tuition in Seattle averages $1,444/month with some care costing as much as $4,000/month. Many factors contribute to the high cost of infant care, such as the low child to teacher ratio for infants and caregivers, and the specialized care infants require. Some employers offer onsite childcare and discounted rates may be available. The adage, “You get what you pay for,” is true in choosing a childcare center. Centers with higher tuition may have teachers with higher salaries and benefits as well as better resources. However, it’s also true that there is no substitute for a caregiver who will connect with your baby and offer loving care. The most important factor for infants is having responsive caregiving with caregivers who will offer affection, keep them safe, and provide enriching experiences. Due to Covid, some centers may not be offering tours or may only be offering virtual tours. Ask questions about caregiver education and experience, the center philosophy and ongoing training, and if you can, observe the caregivers interacting with children. If you are unable to view the center in person, ask to meet the teachers virtually instead.
4) Parent Communication & Involvement You will want to know how the center supports parent communication and involvement. Because infants are on their own individual schedule and are going through ongoing developmental changes, parent communication with infant teachers is essential to ensuring your baby is provided with responsive caregiving. You and your child’s teachers will share information about feeding schedule, sleep, diapering, and daily activities. Due to Covid, parents may not be able to step into classrooms, but ask if families can visit the classroom anytime when it is deemed safe to do so. How is information shared? Will you be able to talk to your child’s teachers at drop off and pick up? How do teachers share information about diaper changes, feeding, and naps? Will you be receiving paper daily notes or does the program have an app that provides you access to daily notes and photos? Finally, how do teachers let you know about ongoing developmental changes? There are many milestones typically developing infants are expected to meet during their first year. Do teachers offer ongoing observations and parent/teacher conferences? How will teachers let you know about any concerns?
5) Safety & Environment There are many factors involved in keeping infants safe and healthy. If you are able to visit the center, see if the room is arranged to provide infants places to play, rest, and eat. Look for cleanliness and organization, ask how teachers help prevent the spread of illness and how toys and shelves are cleaned and sanitized. Does the center have a system for ensuring that each infant is fed the correct bottle? Is there a place to store food, breast milk, diapers, and other belongings? Is each infant provided with an individual crib that meets safety standards? Babies should always be placed to sleep on their back to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). In addition, infants should not sleep with soft items such as blankets, stuffed animals, or bumpers. Ask how children are put to sleep, what is allowed in their crib, and how infants are monitored while sleeping. Some centers may not allow swaddling, blankets, or sleep sacks because they want to ensure that nothing will obstruct your child’s airway and they want to ensure they can easily observe your child while sleeping. You will want to know the center’s policies beforehand, so you are not surprised. It’s a good idea to get your infant used to sleeping with the lights on, background noise, and no swaddling to help him make the transition to group care. Always put your baby to sleep on his back to reduce the risk of SIDS at home as well.
Finally, there is no substitute for your own gut reaction. Trust your instincts. What feelings does the space inspire? When caring for young children, tears are common, but do you feel like your baby’s tears will be responded to with empathy and compassion, even if the caregiver isn’t able to reach him right away? Infants need connection to warm and responsive caregivers, this is how they learn that the world is a safe place for them to explore and gain mastery. If you see an environment that is clean, well-organized, and has plenty of items for infants to explore with all five senses, that is great. But the biggest factor is the caregiving, you are trusting these teachers with your child for most of the day, that is a huge honor for those of us who have worked in early education. Is the atmosphere warm and inviting? Do the people you meet really seem to care for children and have a passion for what they do? Do you see children who are happy and smiling and do you see caregivers who are engaged at the child’s level and interacting with children? The right spot will feel right to you.
Could you use more help? If you are looking for childcare, have questions about your child’s education, or have behavior issues you could use some help with, please schedule a free initial call with me. I have spent my career working with young children and their families and I would love to offer expert help. Set up a free call to see if my services might be a good fit for you and your family, I would love to hear from you.