Choosing the right care for your baby is one of the most important decisions you will make as a parent. It is a daunting and often heart-breaking process and it helps to be armed with information before you set out to find someone that you feel good enough about that you would trust them with your most prized possession – your baby. There are pros and cons to all child care arrangements and, like everything in life, none are without flaws. The ideal caretaker for your baby will always be you but we live in a world where many families require two incomes just to make ends meet which makes it necessary to find outside care for our children.
This article will compare the four most common child care choices – non-licensed family member or friend; babysitter/nanny; family child care; and center based child care – in terms of benefit to your child, cost, flexibility, and security. In many cases, the next best thing to a parent as caregiver is a close family member or friend. This is someone who has good judgment, is reliable, nurturing, and understands infants. If you are fortunate enough to have someone like this in your life who is offering to care for your baby, this will likely be your top choice. Your baby will thrive under the personal care of a nurturing person who shares a deep, familial bond with them. Limiting your baby’s exposure to other young children in the first year can also help to cut down on illnesses and infections. A family caregiver is generally the most economical choice as well since many family members will offer their services either for free or for a nominal fee. The potential pitfalls to this child care arrangement are usually flexibility and difference of opinion. There will be times that this caregiver is sick, has an appointment, is on vacation, or is just generally unavailable. If either you or your spouse has a flexible job and an understanding boss, this may not be an issue.
If not, you will need to consider what to do for back-up care in those situations. The other sticky area in this arrangement can come in when you and your family member have differing philosophies in child-rearing. It is important that you, your spouse, and your child’s caregiver have a conversation about what is most important to you and your spouse when it comes to child-rearing. Security is generally not an issue when it comes to this child care arrangement so long as the caregiver understands your boundaries when it comes to visitors. If you want your child to have individualized care in your home but do not have a family member or close friend who is able to provide care, a private nanny or babysitter is another option. In the first 12-24 months especially, children benefit from individualized care from a nurturing person who is knowledgeable about infant development.
With a nanny, your child will be able to bond with one consistent caregiver and be raised in the comfort of his/her own home. This can be an expensive option but, if you have more than one child, it is usually more cost effective than center based child care. You will also need to factor in taxes for domestic employees. With a nanny, you won’t need to worry about coverage when your child is sick or leaving work for appointments. However, you will need to have a back-up plan for times when your nanny is sick or needs some time off just as you would with a family member. Possibly the most complicated area with a nanny is security. Be sure to thoroughly check the credentials and background of the person you are considering as a caregiver to your child. If you use an agency or if you do it on your own, be sure to check the individual’s background on three levels in each state where they have resided – criminal activity, sex offender registry, child abuse or neglect history. You will want to set boundaries at the outset about visitors and outings with your child in order to have some control over the people your child will spend time with and interact with regularly.
A licensed family child care provider is another option that provides your child with a fairly small group setting. These providers are licensed by the state to provide care for small groups of children in their homes. Most states regulate and monitor the compliance of family child care providers. Your child can benefit from the small group setting and the home environment provided in this arrangement. Many young children are overwhelmed in the larger group setting that center based care provides (often10 or more infants in one classroom) and feel more comfortable in a smaller setting with only a few other children. Licensed family child care is generally an affordable option and many providers offer hourly rates. It is important to remember that licensed family child care providers do need days off as well and you need to plan for the times when the provider will not be available. Be sure to get a list of scheduled closing days before you enroll and ask if the provider has back-up care for unforeseen circumstances.
Another major consideration for this type of care is learning about the other people who will be involved in the home on a daily basis including the provider’s family members and his/her policy regarding interaction with the children who are enrolled for care. This is something you will want to consider closely when choosing a licensed family child care provider. Licensed center based child care is another alternative. Children can benefit from the longevity of this arrangement as many children enroll as infants and stay in a center until they are able to enter the public schools. Child care centers are licensed and regulated by state so you will want to research the licensing authority for your state and find out what the requirements are for staff to child ratios, teacher qualifications, and background checks for employment. Staff to child ratios vary greatly from state-to-state, and can run the gamut from 1 caregiver to 3 infants to 1 caregiver to 6 infants. Centers that are accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) adhere to smaller ratios and higher quality standards. You can find accredited centers in your area by visiting the NAEYC website.
Child care centers differ in cost and it is important to find out what is included in the weekly tuition such as meals, snacks, and enrichment activities. Be wary of the higher prices at the corporate chain centers as the extra fee is usually associated with higher overhead costs and not higher quality. Most child care centers offer weekly rates based on the number of days that your child will attend – some offer half day programs whereas others offer only full day programs. Flexibility in this type of child care arrangement is usually contingent on enrollment – when enrollment is low, the provider will probably be willing to flex or swap days but when enrollment is high this won’t likely be the case – as ratios must be maintained. It is important to ask for a list of closing days when you tour the center to see if their schedule works for your family.
When you tour the center you should take note of the entrances to the facility and how they are secured. Were you able to walk right in or did you have to ring a bell to get someone’s attention? Make sure that they playgrounds are fenced in and gated. The gates should not be locked (this is a fire hazard) but should be secured so that no one can easily get on or off the playground. It will take some time and research in order to find the right child care arrangement for your child and family. Many families combine two of these options to come up with one that works. Find the best fit for your baby now and remember that your child care needs will likely change as your child grows