Considerations in Finding Care
Timing: When to Start Looking
Many child care centers have waiting lists for interested families, so you should begin your search well in advance of the time you will need care. Infant and toddler care can be especially difficult to find due to high demand and small group sizes, so you may need to begin your search for infant care from the time you learn you are pregnant or scheduled for an adoption. For center-based care, try to visit several centers at least one year before you anticipate needing care. To find out about the availability of care in your area, call or email us.
Many family child care providers do not have a waiting list, and fill openings as they arise, so it is a good idea to start your visits four to six months before you need care. Depending on availability, you might have to wait longer than you had planned, so having a back-up child care arrangement to cover you until a slot opens is important.
Here are some questions to consider and ask during your visit:
- Does the center have a waiting list?
- How many children are on the waiting list for your child’s age group? How often is the list updated?
- Many centers have a sibling-preference policy; how many siblings are on the list and how will this affect your chances of getting a slot?
- How does the enrollment process work? Is it open or rolling enrollment, or is enrollment done only once a year?
- Is there an application fee for getting on the waiting list?
- If you are considering a family child care home, will the provider keep in touch with you as openings occur?
Your Family Situation and Your Child's Needs
To narrow down your choices of child care settings, think carefully about your child's needs and how they would best be satisfied in various environments. If your child has special needs your search for child care may be a little more involved, and you'll have several options to consider.
Keep all these factors in mind as you look at a variety of child care situations:
- Does she do best in a small group, or in a larger group with a lot of activity and contact with other children?
- Does your child have special scheduling needs, is she toilet trained, does she need lots of room to run around?
- Does your child bond with others easily, or handle separations well?
- Would your child benefit from having one provider vs. a group of teachers in her daily life?
Your choice of child care will depend not only upon the age and developmental stage of your child, but also on your needs as a family. Think about your schedule, your financial constraints, and the location of your workplace. If you need early drop-off times or late pickups, make sure you ask about the program's hours and late fees. The more flexible your schedule, the more choices you will have.
If Your Child has Special Needs
The Americans with Disabilities Act guarantees children with disabilities the opportunity to participate in all activities of community life, including attending child care. But just because child care programs are available to your child doesn't mean that all child care settings will work for you.
You need to look for a setting that suits your child's individual needs, and a provider with whom you are comfortable. Contact us to get a list of providers that have experience caring for children with various disabilities. You can also talk with your Early Intervention provider and other parents to see whom they have used.
If your child has significant medical needs, you should look closely at the setting. Is there a good adult-to-child ratio? Will there always be an adult available to care for your child? Will they take the time necessary to work with your child? If your child has sensory issues, make sure the environment isn't overly stimulating for him. Some children may need a smaller group to thrive, while others will do best with lots of peer interaction. You have to decide which environment will optimize your child's potential and participation.
You need to consider other factors as well, including the provider's communication system. Will you get the kind of in-depth information you're looking for every day? Check into the discipline policy and make sure the center is willing to work within a special behavioral plan, if your child needs one. Ask about the center's rate of staff turnover. If your child requires a consistent routine or has trouble with transitions, you need a center with a stable staff.
If there is a child with special needs in the class, go to the center to observe how the child is included in activities. Bring your child in and see how she is accepted by the other children and the staff. The most important thing is to find a teacher who is willing to learn about your child's needs and is open to making adaptations, if necessary.