How to Pick Quality Child Care: from a Child Care Provider
Ce Ce Hunter
An insiders tips on finding quality care...and why your expectations of quality could actually be signs of poor care.
As a child care provider I talk quite frequently to parents who have placed their child in a child care environment only to find later that there was something wrong, their child was neglected, hurt, or worse. While many publications are written informing parents how to find good quality child care...they inevitably fall short of the small clues that help to make your child care choice a good one. Many parents look intentionally for certain attributes in a provider and facility...when in reality they should have been looking for the opposite. The following are some misconceptions that parents have about child care and indicators of potential quality care. The very Basics:
The phone interview....
If you are calling during operating hours for the provider...are they spending a lot of time on the phone with you? Quality providers will refuse to answer the phone for anyone other than parents during operating hours. The exception to this would be during nap time or a facility that has adequate staffing arrangements. While parents may feel that this imparts a level of unprofessionalism...it is in fact just the opposite.
Why is not answering the phone a sign of quality? Because the provider is refusing to take time away from the job at hand...taking care of the children. If your child is in care at the facility...would you want the staff to stop playing, reading, or providing attention to your child in order to answer the phone?
The visit to the facility.....
Are the grounds kept in good condition? If it is a home..is the house in good repair? Does the home or center give you the feeling that someone cares about the facility? Homes and centers that have someone who cares about maintaining the facility show a level of responsibility, and a general level of cleanliness. Many parents look for a perfect lawn, perfect home, perfect everything. Instead look for a general "child like" environment...cute flags, and little extras are signs of a kid at heart.
This is the hard part of picking a child care provider. Eventually child care providers get a very polished persona for parents. They are a little like politicians that have given the same speech over and over again. They know when to make a joke, when to laugh, and when to be serious. They have worked the same speech, the same interview, and the same tour a million times and are very good at it. It isn't that they are trying to fool you...like a wolf in sheep's clothing. For the most part they are good honest people who would just like to keep their business full. But the problem is that there are poor quality facilities that give the impression of being something they are not.
Your job as a parent is to look past the polished 'tour' and find the little clues that will help to ensure a good choice in child care.
1) The provider is very interested in talking to you during the interview.
Wrong! The provider should be paying special attention to your child. There should be a strong focus on letting your child warm up to them and making your child feel comfortable. The provider should ask the child's name, and remember it. They should let your child come to them rather than overwhelm them before they are ready. You should come secondary to your child...after all they are the ones who will be spending majority of their time with the provider.
2) The provider talks in depth about policies.
Wrong! Providers have a responsibility to find a 'good fit' as much as a parent does. This means spending time with the family..parents and children. If there is a personality conflict between the child or parent and the provider then eventually this will cause problems in the facility. Good quality providers look for children and families that will generally work within their facility environment. Discussing policies that you can read on your own time is unnecessary. Questions about policies can be answered over the phone or at another time.
3) The home/facility is in perfect condition.
Oh every parent thinks that this is the best thing in the World. What it really means is that the provider is spending a lot of time cleaning. You want to look for a good balance between cleanliness and messiness. Why? Because children are messy. They are messy players and eaters. A home that is in top notch perfect condition has an inordinate amount of energy being spent on it to maintain it that way...especially with a large number of children in the home on a daily basis. Look for worn, well used, well loved toys. Children don't care about 'brand new' appearance...they just want to have fun!
Overall...... 1) The provider is open and available all the time.
This is very bad. Imagine spending 12 hours per day, 5 days per week with up to six 2 year olds and you will understand what I mean! That is a 60 hour work week...with additional time being spent on cleaning, grocery shopping, bank runs, craft supplies, general business paperwork, etc. A quality provider will set limits on their exposure to stress. They will know what they can mentally handle as a work schedule and will demand that the opening and closing times be adhered to. Respect these requirements and limits..quality providers understand better than you what stress they are under on a daily basis and what they can handle. Quantity is not equal to Quality.
2) The provider does not ask for paid holidays, vacation time, training days, or personal days, and only requires payment when your child attends.
Not a good deal! Usually most providers when they start off believing that they need to be open from dusk to dawn, never take vacations, holidays, etc. A quality provider will recognize that they need to take holidays for personal time with their family, vacation time to relax and rejuvenate themselves, training days to improve their work performance and provide inspiration, and personal days to attend to personal maintenance matters such as dental visits, doctor visits for themselves or family members. No one can live on a fluctuating income..much less maintain a business. A provider who doesn't require a steady income will soon lose their business...due to financial inadequacies. They will not be able to afford to maintain their business..much less new toys, food costs, maintenance, utilities, etc. and you will either be stuck with poor child care conditions, or none at all.
3) There are not strict policies for the facility. The provider is very easy going.
While even the most well thought out, clear, and concise parent pack can be interpreted in a million and one ways....the absence of one can spell disaster. You are not only looking for a provider that expects certain things from you and your child, but also one who expects certain things from themselves. A quality child care professional has learned through trial and error what works and doesn't work for their facility. A contract and parent pack protects your and your child's rights as well as the provider's. Provider's without this will constantly be facing difficult, and confusing situations with parents.
4) The provider is willing to negotiate on fees and policies.
In most states there is a survey called the Regional Market Rate Survey or RMR. This provides the rate ceiling for subsidized care. It is created by surveying providers within the state and finding the rate that is average. This should be the average cost of care for the County. Most Regional Market Rate Studies can be found by talking to your local Community Child Care Council. A provider that is willing to dip below this local ceiling is in actuality undercutting their business profit. Your question should be "why"? The provider doesn't know you or your child, isn't responsible for maintaining your lifestyle in a comfortable fashion, so why would they be willing to take a loss for you? Professional care providers have a fee that they charge that allows them to successfully maintain their business/home, and their own lifestyle. They recognize that what they do is an important job and require that they be compensated for their expertise. Much the same as you in your own line of work. Imagine that a provider has agreed to a $5.00 discount for you per day. Assuming a 20 day FT (M-F) schedule this "discount" would amount to a $100.00 loss for the business. Why would a provider agree to work more for less?
Finding a quality professional child care provider can be a difficult task. Remarkably...the sign of quality care is sometimes more policies, greater demands, messy homes, and someone that ignores you over your child! Think carefully about why you are wanting to see certain attributes in a facility....then think about why NOT finding that could be a sign of quality. The answers may surprise you!
Celeste is a successful Child Care Professional in the state of CA,webmaster for an online educational search engine located at ChildCareUS.info, and owner of the successful online E-zine Parents N Providers.