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Find the Right Daycare: Good Enough Stuff

By Erin Garner

When I was about three months pregnant with my daughter I began looking into child care. I thought I was way ahead of the game, starting months before my daughter had arrived, but to my surprise, I'd barely started my search early enough. Several of the centers I looked at had 12- to 18-month waiting lists. I was fortunate to not need child care until my daughter was 6-months old, by which time I'd gotten her into the center I liked best, but not everyone is that lucky. So, if you're hoping to send the little one to the best child care center in town, you'd better start looking when you start trying to conceive! Here are some more tips to help you in the child care quest:

Establish a budget before you start looking and pay attention to ways you can save money. Child care centers differ greatly in cost and fee schedules. Some charge by the week, some by the day, some by the half day and some by the hour. You may pay less signing up for full-time, even if you only need three or four days for example. Or you may be better off paying by the hour, especially if you only need part-time care. Know what you can afford and how to get the best price for the amount of care you need.

Get recommendations. Sure, you can look in the phone book and start calling, but we're talking about your children here. Just because a center is licensed (and make sure the center is licensed), doesn't mean it's good. If your friends love a place, add it to your list. If your friends have had a bad experience at a place, make a note of it. (Keeping detailed notes will help you stay organized during the process.) Ask each center for a list of references, do background checks and visit the Minnesota Department of Human Services website (www.dhs.mn.state.us) for a list of licensed child care centers. Another helpful agency is the Minnesota Child Care Resource and Referral Network (www.mnchildcare.org). On their website they provide a checklist and a questionnaire to use when interviewing and visiting potential child care centers.

Set up a tour. Take plenty of time to tour each facility and to meet the staff. Find out if the same people will be caring for your children every day. Also ask how long the care-takers have worked at the center and what kind of education and experience they have. A place with high staff turnover may require a more detailed examination. You'll want to figure out why they have such high turnover or you may want to take that center off your list. Make sure the center's policies are in line with your personal beliefs about parenting and child care. Check on discipline, security, health and safety policies and anything else that might be important to you and your family. If you don't feel good about a place after you tour it, take it off your list.

Get on the waiting list and have a back-up plan. If you love a child care center, get on the waiting list (if they have one), but also be prepared with a back-up plan. A friend of mine recently returned to work before her son got into either one of the two centers she had been on the waiting list for. She ended up having to pay much more than she anticipated for a spot at a center that had an opening when she needed it.

Think creatively about your child care options. Child care centers aren't the only option. Au Pairs cost around $15000 a year plus room and board, which may save you money if you have more than one child. Of course, that means having someone else live with you and there are no guarantees that you'll like the person who is sent to you. If you work part-time, you may be able to trade child care responsibilities with someone on an opposite schedule.

Reevaluate your child care regularly. A center that was perfect for your newborn may not be the best place for your toddler. Regularly check in with your child care providers to see how your child is doing. Children change with each stage and so do their child care needs. Make sure your child care center continues to meet your child's needs and if they don't, be prepared to find a new one.

Erin Erickson Garner is a writer and a specialist in maternal and child health. She currently is home with her two young children except for Saturdays, when she and her mom co-host the Good Enough MomsTM radio show on WFMP-Radio, FM107.1 in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Categories: Advice, Ideas & Stories, MomShare,

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