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Choosing child care for your baby

Published on: April 01, 2006

From selecting a pediatrician to
determining where their baby will be delivered, parents can be
overwhelmed by the number of choices that need to be made before the
due date. As many working parents soon discover, deciding about child
care -- and specifically which child care your baby will attend -- is
increasingly a choice that needs to be made while the baby is still in
the womb.

Making such a decision prior to the baby's birth --
without knowing your child's temperament, personality or how you, as
parents, might react to parenthood -- can feel daunting as well as
premature. But when the best options for child care have a waiting list
longer than your pre-birth to-do list, urgency sets in and you soon
feel like you're in a race to find a seat at the table.

"The popular daycares have long waiting lists and are expensive," says
Sandra Wallace, newborn program manager for PEPS (Program for Early
Parent Support). "People are tired and often are in denial to the last

So where should parents begin? Dianne Stetson of the National Infant
and Toddler Child Care Initiative Team at Zero to Three, says that
although the search should start before the baby is born and you need
care, parents should wait to meet their child before making a final
decision. "Once your child is born and you have the opportunity to get
to know him and his temperament and needs, the setting you may have
chosen may no longer seem like the right match for him," Stetson says.

Stetson recommends that parents take adequate family leave time, since
it is a critical part of your family's child care plan and will provide
the base of emotional support both you and your baby need as you
transition to child care. Parents also need time to observe the child
care settings that they are considering.

Zero to Three, a national organization for infant and toddler
development, believes that three basic principles need to be present in
any child care arrangement:

A good caregiver who is loving and responsive. This should be someone
who hugs and cuddles, and responds to the baby's smiles, tears and
emerging skills.

A caregiver who respects the baby's individuality. The caregiver should
recognize the baby's personal rhythms, strengths and limitations, and
should tune into these when planning the pace and time for eating,
sleeping and playing. If the child has a special need, the caregiver
should be equipped and comfortable to provide proper care.

An environment that offers good surroundings. The space should be safe
and clean, and filled with interesting and stimulating things to
explore. Nina Auerbach, founder and CEO of Child Care Resources of King
County, adds that "for an infant, this might be as simple as colorful
mobiles and shapes, picture books with big pictures and the tendency of
the provider to talk to the infant throughout the day, which encourages
language development."

Auerbach also suggests that parents look into the providers'
communication skills and business practices, topics that can easily be
glossed over when searching for care. She recommends that parents ask
the following questions:

  • Does the provider give the parents daily updates on how their child did that day in child care?
  • Does the provider have an "open door" policy in which the parents can drop in whenever they want?
  • Are the fees and other rules, like those covering closures and pick-up and drop-off times, clear?

is also important to determine to what extent the provider seeks
professional development, Auerbach advises. "Research clearly shows a
connection between providers who seek training and education and high
quality. This is a much stronger indicator than experience. So I would
find out about the educational background of the provider, and what she
is doing to continually learn more about the field," she says.

Instinct is an important component of any decision related to child
care, experts agree. For example, is the director of the child care
center wearing a suit but telling you how hands-on she is with the
kids? Your gut will tell you that nobody would wear a suit and interact
with babies all day. Or does the parent handbook seem excessively
lengthy and confusing? If so, you will likely discover that your
interpretation of the rules and procedures regarding fees and holidays
may be inaccurate, and you might find yourself in a pinch as a result.

Have the confidence to know that you can and will make a great decision, if you:

  • invest the time to prepare for what you need,
  • research the options available
  • provide ample time to do the legwork before you actually need the care.

Karen Dawson is a writer and public relations professional. She lives in Maple Valley with her husband and 4-year-old son.

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