Tackling the Search for the Perfect Child Care

Finding the right child care situation for our precious little ones is no easy task. Many places start fall enrollment in early spring, so if you want to find the perfect match for your child, you might want to start looking now.

The Chicago Sun Times is running a series of articles on this topic entitled Watching Your Children. Here’s a link to Part I.

Deciding on a child care center is like auditioning actors. Do they fit the description? Are they convincing? Do they have that je ne sais quoi that makes them irresistible? Do they keep the crowds coming back for more?

There are a lot of different options out there, and it’s up to parents to educate ourselves about the different programs and care situations available in your area. Here are some basics about the two types of care generally available-

  • Family Child Care– child care providers who open their homes to children. Most states have licensing programs for family child care providers, though not all people watching children in their homes are necessarily licensed. Family Child Care programs are usually run by 1 person and possibly an assistant. The children here are usually of a variety of ages and the home-like setting can be great for young children. Often times family child care programs are informal and offer more flexible hours and schedules than center-based programs. Remember, informal does not mean of lower quality.
  • Child Care Centers or Center-Based Programs– Private or non-profit programs housed in a public building, not a private home. A center-based program usually has a director/administrator in addition to teaching staff and is licensed and regulated by the state. Some are franchises and many are independent. Children in child care centers are usually grouped by age. Child care centers usually have fixed drop-off and pick up schedules.

Within the two categories mentioned above, there is a lot of variety. Choosing the right fit for your family, your schedule and your child is not easy.

One good place to start is at your local Resource and Referral Agency. Most states and counties have them and they exist to help parent find child care placements, among other things. To find your local R&R visit www.naccrra.org. In the upper-right corner you’ll find a map where you can enter your zip code and get search results.

Another good resource is Pre-K Now, a public education and advocacy campaign devoted to raising public awareness about the need for pre-k for all children. On their web site you’ll find a checklist that you can download and refer to in your search for quality care.

Child care programs can also learn from this check list and from talking to parents looking for care. It is here that communication begins. Only through a strong parent/provider relationship can we best meet the needs of our young children.

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