I just placed my belly, aka “Baby Phillips,” on a waiting list for the day-care center near my work. I can’t imagine having my baby in the outside world yet, let alone in day care, but for me—like the 59 percent of working mothers with children younger than 1 year—finding the right child care is crucial. Indeed, with about 6 million U.S. infants and toddlers being looked after by people other than their parents, quality care is in high demand. As a result, parents are wise to start the selection process early, even before the baby is born.
Your choices boil down to three basic options: day-care centers, family day care and nannies. Before you make any decision, explore the different options and ask a lot of questions. But even more important, follow your instincts: If a situation feels right, chances are it is.
Once you make your decision and your baby is in care, occasionally drop in for surprise visits to make sure your child is happy and thriving. And if you’re lucky enough to have a relative who is willing, able and responsible enough to care for your baby, tell her up front about your expectations regarding feeding, nap times, consoling a crying child, etc., so you don’t have the uncomfortable task of correcting such issues later on.
To help you make this important decision, here’s a look at the different options, the cost ranges (for a low-income vs. high-income community), care standards and pros and cons.
How it works: Care is provided in a nonresidential facility, usually for 13 or more children.
Cost range: The average annual cost for a 1-year-old in Conway/Springdale, Ark., is $3,900, according to the Children’s Defense Fund. In Boston, it’s $13,000.
What to look for: The preferred ratio of caregivers to children who are not yet mobile is 1-to-3, with group sizes no larger than six, according to Zero to Three, a national nonprofit organization that promotes healthy development in the early years. Beyond determining what the caregiver/child ratio is, you should ensure that your child has a primary caregiver, says Claire Lerner, a child-development specialist at Zero to Three. “This builds a stable relationship for your child, and it’s helpful for you to have the same person to go to with questions,” she says.
Ask about the experience, ongoing education and turnover rate of the day-care center’s caregivers; the level of parental involvement; and the center’s philosophy, including discipline and goals for the children. Finally, take a good look around—is the center clean and inviting? Do the caregivers talk to, and engage, the children?