When I became a mom, I freaked out at the prospect of now constantly being in charge of the well-being of another human life. Not only was I now in charge of said human being, but I was also supposed to return to work and make sure that my munchkin’s caregivers were somewhat competent and capable. What no one tells you, though, as a new mother is that there are so many options for child care that it can easily become overwhelming and exhausting to sift through. Also, sometimes you call day cares and they answer you in French (in the middle of North Texas) and you panic and just hang up the phone because you don’t know French and don’t want your kid to know a language you don’t even understand- but I digress.
Picking a daycare can be an intimidating process, especially if you live in a metroplex or city where options are enormous. There are a few things you can keep in mind to make the process less scary and perhaps even easy enough to get done in your six week maternity leave, you know, while you “recover.”
The number one concern of any parent is the safety and security of their little one, especially while in the care of others. Before picking a daycare, be sure to understand the background check process of their employees. Are all employees checked? What about the gardener and food delivery guys? Who vets everyone who walks into the center?
Further, every daycare will have a different security system. Most will have locked doors to prevent just anyone from walking in during the day. Ask about how you will gain access to the center: Do you get a key fop? Does someone have to buzz you in? Keep in mind that every security system will have it’s weaknesses. For instance, what happens if a family leaves the daycare abruptly- can their key fop be deactivated remotely? Why are there security cameras in the rooms and when can I come and check in on my munchkin? These may seem like weird paranoid questions, but keep in mind that asking these questions lets the daycare employees know you are a concerned and well-versed consumer. They SHOULD be prepared to answer these questions and if they can’t give an answer, that may not be a great sign.
Depending on where you live in the country, day care prices will vary immensely. For instance, when we lived in North Texas it was not uncommon to pay $250-$275/week for child care. We now live in a more rural area and pay $155/week. I know. Child care is EXPENSIVE. However, there is a little room for negotiation if you live in an area with a competitive child care market.
Go to multiple day cares and bring the prices from each center you visit. When you find one you like be upfront about the cost differences between centers. Make them explain to you why their center is more expensive and don’t be afraid to ask for a discount. Day cares are all about numbers and waiving a fee here or there will not hurt their bottom line as much as not having the enrollment will. Also, look out for special activities or summer enrollment dates at local centers. These usually mean a waived enrollment fee if you sign up at the event.
3. Familiarize Yourself with the Staff
This may seem obvious to a more experienced mother, but as a first time mom, I easily fell into thought process that the day care workers would approach me if there was ever a problem or change with my daughter. Do not assume this. As much as care givers give in attention and care to our kids (and most do an absolutely fabulous job) they simply do not always have the time to stop and have a conversation with you in the morning or at pick up. Be willing to constantly stop by the front office and just shoot the breeze with the director or transition director of the center. Ask questions about upcoming activities and let them know when you’re taking business trips. I can guarantee that they will appreciate the parental involvement in the center and will be happy to know that the reason your kid is screaming constantly isn’t because they’re possessed, it’s just that mom is in Austin for the week.
Moreover, day cares work by ratios, meaning that only so many kids of a certain age can be with a teacher. Because of this, you’ll notice that teachers move rooms a lot or your child may have a “floater” in his/her room occasionally. This is completely normal and has to occur in order to allow care givers vacation and sick days. However, if it’s happening too often you may want to ask about the status of a teacher or if they’re looking to hire someone new. A sign of a good day care is consistent and satisfied workers- if this isn’t the case, bring it up to the director in a friendly manner. You each have the same goal- safety and security of your child.
Overall, having our daughter in a traditional day care setting has been a great experience. She has made friends with the staff and other children, and we’ve had the opportunity to meet other young parents. But, don’t be an idiot like me and just assume you’ll pick a good daycare by calling places. Visit the people, take a day off and just go sit in a classroom- you will have greater peace of mind returning to work and your child will be given the best possibility of developing lifelong relationships with his/her caregivers.