The Final Choice Is Yours

With so many child-care choices ahead of you, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. The bottom line is, if you don't feel comfortable — if something about the daycare center or individual child-care provider bothers you, no matter how small or seemingly unimportant, you owe it to yourself to either address the issue or to move on to the next center or person on the list.

If you start with a list of most desirable qualities in a childcare provider and rate each one accordingly, a final decision will be much easier to make. The basic things to look for are communication, access and honesty.

Communication, Access, and Honesty

Child-care providers shouldn't make commitments they can't or don't intend to keep. They shouldn't cover up problems or accidents that occur. Providers should give you frequent and complete updates about your child's progress and problems. If they keep you informed, you can develop ways to deal with problems and build on the activities and accomplishments of the day.

Alert

If providers feel that they can't abide by certain wishes, they should be candid about their inability to do so. Providers should also abide by parents' wishes on matters such as discipline, TV viewing, food, adult smoking, and toilet training.

There should always be open access to a home-based or commercial daycare. Parents must be welcome to visit at any time, even without calling first. Providers should also allow parents to make a reasonable number of phone calls to check on their child's well-being, especially in the case of minor illness or separation anxiety. You and the provider should work out the best times for these calls and determine in advance how many are reasonable.

Should providers criticize or advise parents on child rearing?

Not unless parents ask for their advice. If asked, they should always offer advice in a noncritical way. Of course, if providers see something that is seriously wrong (i.e., signs of abuse, neglect, or malnutrition), they should discuss the problem with the parents and, if necessary, contact the proper authorities.

Advance Notice of Changes

Since it is often very difficult to find adequate alternate care, providers should tell parents well in advance if they are going to change their hours or prices — or if they plan to close down or limit the number of children in their care. Parents need at least a month's (or, better yet, six weeks') notice if they need to find a new care provider for their child.

A center or family daycare provider should also clarify holiday schedules, so parents know which days are covered and which are not. Not every calendar holiday is a paid holiday for working parents. And except in the case of emergency, parents should be given at least two weeks' notice even if the provider won't be available on a nonholiday day.

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