As a first-time parent, the thought of leaving your baby with someone else can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are five things to consider when choosing the best childcare option for your family:
1. Choose a setting that works for you
According to Sarah Bailey, inclusion specialist at Child Care Answers, there are three possible settings for childcare in the state of Indiana: an in-home provider, a center, and a ministry. It is important to weigh the pros and cons of each as they relate to your family. “What’s best for the family is best for the baby,” said Lauren George, infant and toddler specialist at Early Learning Indiana. In-home childcare providers often offer more flexibility and a more intimate setting; childcare centers typically have a more structured classroom environment, while ministries provide a faith-based setting. There is no one option that is objectively better for baby. As George pointed out, it is the quality of the provider that truly matters.
2. Consider licensing, certification and ratio
Licensing is the standard for health and safety measures in any childcare setting. According to Bailey, all childcare providers must be licensed (in-home providers and childcare centers) or registered (ministries) by the state of Indiana if they have more than five unrelated children receiving care. Certification goes above and beyond standard licensing requirements. Paths to Quality serves as “Indiana’s statewide rating system for early care and education programs,” according to their website www.childcareindiana.org. Childcare providers who take part in this voluntary certification program receive access to professional development, training, and knowledge about best practices.
When considering ratio, specifically in childcare centers, George noted the ideal for infants is one provider for every three to four infants, while the ideal for toddlers is one adult for every five children.
3. Visit in person, unannounced
The best way to get a real sense for a childcare provider is to drop by for a visit when the center is operating and children are present. Watch how the providers interact with the children. Bailey suggests parents ask themselves the following questions: “Does it smell good? How are the teachers talking to the children? What do the rooms look like? How does a teacher respond to crying?” She also warns against providers that do not allow daytime or drop-in visits. Ultimately, Bailey advises parents to focus on whether a childcare provider strives to keep kids safe, clean, and healthy.
“Care in the first three years is about relationships,” George added. Look for an environment that is warm and friendly. “Babies cry,” she said, “but every baby in the room shouldn’t be crying.” George also urges parents to drop in without an appointment and look for a setting that is clean, has toys present, relies on a play-based curriculum, and follows safe sleep practices.
4. Trust your intuition
Leaving your child, especially your first, with a childcare provider ranks among the most difficult of parenting milestones. Although Bailey works in the childcare industry, she admits to having had reservations when her now-20-month-old son went to childcare for the first time. She recommends asking yourself, “Is this a place where my child will be cared for? I need to know that you will love my baby.”
Being anxious is completely normal, but don’t ignore your parental instinct. You will never regret being too careful when it comes to the care of your children. “Trust your gut. You know how you feel when you walk in the door, and you know in your heart if it is the right place to send your baby,” George added.
- Turn to the experts
If you have searched and still feel at a loss, or if you are too overwhelmed to even start, turn to the experts for help. Child Care Answers, a program of Early Learning Indiana, offers a free resource and referral service to connect families with childcare. They have even created a “Provider Checklist” for families to use while making their decision. For more information about this organization and their services, visit www.childcareanswers.com.
Choosing the right childcare can seem like a daunting task. Fortunately, Indianapolis is home to a number of quality childcare options, and with a little research and planning you will soon find the right fit for your family.