Here is advice reprinted from a child care FAQ in the usenet newsgroup alt.childcare:
Finding the right kind of child care takes time. If possible, begin looking a few months before your child will need care. Allow several weeks for visiting different child care centers and family day care homes.
When looking for child care, it is important to visit a child care facility when children are involved in program activities. That will give you an opportunity to see if the children like the program and how they get along with program staff. This may also give you an idea of how well the program suits your child. If you find a facility you think is suitable, try to come back for a second visit and take your child. Does your child seem comfortable there? After the visit, try to find out from your child how he or she felt about the facility.
Before you visit any child care setting, you should call and talk with the family day care provider or center director to get some basic information.
Here are some questions you may want to ask:
What time do you open and close? How much do you charge, and when are payments made? Weekly? Monthly? Does the price include meals and snacks, or do I need to bring food for my child? How many other children are in your program, and what are their ages? Are your services and fees written down in the form of a contract or service agreement?
If you are uncomfortable with the answers to any of these questions, the facility is probably not the right one for you.
When you visit the facility, there are three main things you should look for to make sure the program is the right one for you and your child. These three things are: the caregiver, the children, and the space within the facility which is used for child care.
Look at the Caregiver
Can you talk easily with the caregiver? Are you comfortable with the person? Do you feel you can trust the caregiver? Does the caregiver seem to enjoy being with the children? Is he/she really listening and responding to them? Is the caregiver able to keep up with the children, or does he/she seem overly tired? Are the children supervised at all times? How does the caregiver discipline the children? Does the caregiver use a calm voice? Does he/she speak to the children on their own level? Does the program have written policies and procedures? If so, do parents receive copies?
Look at the Children
Do the children seem to enjoy being with the caregiver? Are the children given a chance to make choices? Are they able to "explore" on their own? Do the children seem to understand and follow the program's rules and routines?
Look at the Space Used for Child Care
Is the provider's child care license or registration displayed? Is it current? Does the program area look clean and safe? Do the children wash their hands before eating and after using the toilet? Are cleaning supplies, sharp objects, medicines, and other dangerous items put away out of the children's reach? Is there enough space indoors and outdoors so all the children have room to play? Is the outdoor play area safe? Is there enough heat, light, and ventilation? Are there fire extinguishers and smoke detectors? Are all toys and materials in good condition? Are they suitable for the children's ages? Can the children reach them easily? If meals and snacks are provided by the program, are they nutritious? Are they the kinds of food you want your child to eat? In general, does the program have a safe, healthy, and happy "feel" to it? Is it a place where children can be children?
If you can answer "yes" to all these questions after your visit, you probably found the right facility for you and your child. But you also have to listen to your instincts: if you feel uncomfortable with the facility for any reason, you should look for another one.
: You also want to be at a center that will have no problem with a parent dropping in to see their child unannounced. If you have to schedule a time to come and visit your child, you have to wonder what they might be hiding if they only schedule a parent visit at a specific time.
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