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Once you know what type of child care you're looking for—day-care center, family day care or nanny—word of mouth is a great way to find the best provider for you. So don't be shy about asking around for referrals—check with friends, co-workers or neighbors.
If you're interested in a day-care center or family day care, contact your local Child Care Resource and Referral Agency via Child Care Aware (800-424-2246;
childcareaware.org) for a list of legally operating facilities in your area. Check out a variety of places and ask about group sizes, adult-to-child ratios, caregiver qualifications and licensing standards.
If a nanny sounds more your speed, also ask for referrals from people you know and trust, or contact the International Nanny Association (888-878-1477; nanny.org) to find a reputable placement agency. Be sure to interview plenty of candidates, call all references yourself (even
if you're using an agency), and don't hire anyone without conducting a thorough background check. Most placement agencies will do a check for you (be sure to ask for a copy of the report) or, for about $50 to $100, you can use an online site such as USSearch.com.
Before signing up for any situation, be sure the caregiver shares your basic values and philosophies, advises Karen Heying, project manager for the National Infant and Toddler Child Care Initiative at Zero to Three, a nonprofit organization dedicated to children's development in the
first three years. You don't have to agree on everything, but you should see eye-to-eye on the big issues, such as nurturing styles and philosophies on "crying it out."
Last but not least, listen to your gut. If you have qualms about a care provider, keep looking! At the same time, you need to accept that no situation will be perfect.