Here at Early Days Foods, we want to ensure parents make the right choice for their kids when choosing an appropriate childcare facility. If you’re going back to work and considering putting your child in daycare, here’s what you need to know — from benefits and downsides to the questions you should ask and what to look for in a facility. If the thought of leaving your child with someone else all day, every workday, makes you want to never leave your baby at all, you’re not alone. It’s a big decision, especially if this is your first baby. But if you’re planning to go back to your 9-to-5, you’re in good company: According to some estimates, more than 70 percent of all moms work outside the home. And that also means there are plenty of excellent childcare options, from nannies to babysitters and more. One of your best options is daycare, either through a group center or home daycare. Many centers across Ireland and the UK offer exceptional care with licensed, trained caregivers in an environment where your little one will get valuable socialisation with other kids her age. Here’s what you need to know about daycare, from the benefits and downsides to questions to ask potential providers and what to look for when you visit a daycare facility.
Types of daycare facilitiesA daycare is a facility where parents drop children off, usually for a full day, with other kids of varying ages. You have a couple of options:
- Group Day Care: These facilities are state-licensed and are usually run similarly to a school, with kids of varying ages cared for in groups. Some of these are run by employers themselves. If you choose this option, you’re in good company: More than a quarter of infants and toddlers are in center-based care.
- Home Day Care: This childcare is run out of the provider’s home, often as she cares for her own children at the same time. While some home daycare providers have received training and are state-licensed, many are not.
Benefits of daycareA good daycare program can offer some significant advantages:
- Continuous care: Most childcare centers offer care from the early months of infancy through toddlerhood, and sometimes even beyond.
- Education: A well-organised program is geared to your child’s development and growth.
- Socialisation: Your child will get lots of fun time with other little ones.
- Cost: If you’re planning to go back to work and need someone to watch after your child while you’re away, daycare tends to be less expensive than hiring a nanny.
- Reliability: Most centers stay open for about 12 hours to support a variety of parent schedules.
- Specific to group daycare: Staff is trained and licensed. And because there’s more than one caregiver, there’s always a sub.
- Specific to home daycare: There are fewer children than you’d find at a group daycare center — which may mean more personal attention and less exposure to illness.
Downsides to daycareThere are some drawbacks to putting your baby in day care, including:
- Cost: While day care centers are less expensive than private childcare, it’s still pricey unless it’s subsidised by the government or your company.
- Exposure to illnesses: Because they’re exposed to more kids, babies may get sick more often than those in another childcare setting — though that is just a precursor of what’s to come in preschool. In fact, early germ exposure can actually toughen up a baby’s immune system (which may mean fewer colds and infections later on in childhood).
- Specific to group daycare: There may be less flexibility in scheduling than in a more informal setting, and the center may be closed on holidays when you’re working if it follows a public school calendar.
- Specific to home daycare: Some providers (like those run by religious organizations) are unlicensed and don’t need to have childcare training — which means they aren’t regularly inspected for quality and may not have to abide by group size, child-to-caregiver ratios, activities, and materials. And if the infant-caregiver (or one of her kids) is sick, there’s usually no backup caregiver at the ready, so you’ll need an on-call sitter (or a very understanding boss).
5 steps to choosing your daycareDepending on where you live, you may need to leave yourself a little more time to find daycare. It’s a good idea to start looking at least two months before you plan to go back to work; if you live in a big city you might even want to start checking out your options before your baby even arrives. Here are a few steps to take:
- Do your research. Get recommendations from other parents (at work and among friends) and your pediatrician. If you don’t know other parents, consider asking those you meet in your local area. You can also check online resources for childcare referral services or with the state regulatory agency here.
- Interview centers. Screen centers and in-home daycare providers over the phone. If the center’s hours are inconvenient or the staff isn’t forthcoming, scratch it off the list of places to visit.
- Check the center out in person. Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, visit in person and see if it checks off all the basics. Then trust your gut: If something doesn’t seem right to you, it probably isn’t right for your child, either.
- Check references. Take the time to call former and current clients to find out how happy they and their kids are with their experience. As tempting as it is to rely on the glowing letters of recommendation that providers may supply, don’t. Letters are easily edited (or even forged).
- Drop by unannounced. Before you make your final choice, consider stopping by unexpectedly on another day to get a truer picture of what the group daycare center is like when the staff hasn’t been prepped. If the center doesn’t allow unscheduled visits of any kind, you may want to cross it off your list.
For a group daycare, also ask:
- How long have the teachers been employed? High turnover is a bad sign — it could mean the workers aren’t paid well and/or aren’t qualified for childcare.
- How is the staff screened? All daycare workers should have had complete health and criminal background checks. Ask if you can see proof of this if you come to inspect the facility.
What to look for when you visit a daycare centerOnce you’ve screened your daycare options, schedule a visit at three to five group/family daycare centers. Make sure you see the following features before you enroll your baby:
Happy children and staffYou want to see alert, content, clean babies in spacious rooms, with a quiet area where they can nap in separate cribs (and according to their own schedules). Caregivers should genuinely seem energetic, patient and genuinely interested in the kids. Visit toward the end of the day to get a more accurate picture of what the center is like than you would first thing in the morning.
A stimulating environmentLook for lots of verbal and physical interaction between kids and caregivers. Does staff get down on the floor and interact with kids? Are the kids engaged (and not zoned out, looking off into the distance)? Check as well for age-appropriate toys that are in good shape. And ask for a rundown of the daily activities, which should include lots of singing, talking, reading and dancing as well as on-the-floor playtime activities.
Separation of age groupsBabies under 12 months shouldn’t be mingling with toddlers and older children — bigger kids can be pretty rambunctious and haven’t yet mastered being gentle with infants.
Locked doorsYour child can’t come and go as she pleases at home, so she shouldn’t be able to freely roam (or leave!) the daycare center either. Adult visitors should also be closely monitored so only staff and authorised grown-ups who are there to pick up and drop off can enter.
A clean and healthy settingA well-run group daycare center spells out its health and sanitation rules on a sign, and then follows them:
- Caregivers wash hands after each diaper change
- The diapering and food prep areas are kept separate and scrubbed after each use
- Feeding utensils are washed in a dishwasher or are disposable
- Bottles are prepared under sanitary conditions
- Teething rings, pacifiers, and washcloths shouldn’t be shared
- Toys are rinsed off with a sanitising solution, and/or each child gets a separate box
Safety measuresMake sure that the daycare provides a safe environment for kids by taking the same safety precautions you do at home. There should be:
- No choking hazards, including small toys or playthings that can break apart into small pieces
- No pillows or fluffy bedding in cribs; babies should be put to sleep on their backs
- Gates on open stairways
- Window guards on upstairs windows
- Spic-and-span kitchen and bathroom and (ideally) an enclosed outdoor space for play
- Clear floors (i.e., not littered with toys)
- Smoke detectors clearly marked exits and fire extinguishers