How to select the right Child Care facility – Answers from a Child Care Director!
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There are a thousand child care centers to choose from, so how do you pick the right one? Okay, I get that selecting a child care facility isn’t quite the same thing as selecting where you want to go to college or what your future career is going to be, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t one of the most important decisions you will make.
Honestly, I was pretty passive about selecting my college. I went where my sister went, and didn’t really think twice about it. But, selecting the child care center where my children would attend, that was harder. Not only are these people (whom you don’t know) going to care for your child and teach your child they are most likely going to be with your child more during his/her waking hours than you are five days out of the week. You can’t just select a child care center at random. You have to make sure you are 100% comfortable with the facility and staff because they will soon become like family to your little one.
There are some very important questions you should ask when ever interviewing a child care facility. And yes, I do mean interviewing. You shouldn’t be going in trying to be accepted by them. It is the Center Director’s responsibility to prove to you that they are good enough for you, not the other way around. So, questions you should ask, and answers you should hear:
(1) Is the facility safe and secure? Child care centers should be locked from the outside at all times. Parents should have a code to get into the building or be buzzed in. This ensures the safety of the safe and all the children in the center.
(2) Does the facility utilize an education based curriculum? Okay, I know it may sound silly to want your child to have a curriculum at say 6 months, but there have been studies to prove that children that start in an early education facility at a young age, even infancy, will do better in their later education years. Yes, my children both went to centers with a curriculum. My kids were doing sign language at 9 months, singing their ABCs between 18-20 months, and talking in complete sentences before they were 2. I am a firm believer that children need to be stimulated regularly with music, colors, books, paint, etc.
(3) Is the facility licensed through the Department of Human Resources? Every state has an organization that regulates what child care facilities are allowed to do and have in the center. Check out the Minimum Standards set up by the Alabama Department of HR at http://nrckids.org/STATES/AL/al_all.pdf. This covers everything including but not limited to: equipment in the classrooms, teacher to student ratio, procedures for illnesses, etc. In my state it is called the Department of Human Resources, you may want to do a little online research to see what state department regulates child care facilities in your state. With that said, I do not recommend enrolling your child in a facilities that is not licensed through the Department of HR or equivalent. If a center is affiliated with a church it is not required to be license, as well you may find some in home centers are not licensed. But, don’t just assume one way or the other. Make sure you ask!
(4) Can I see your most recent Department of Human Resources evaluation? Okay, this only applies if the answer to number 3 above was yes. If they are licensed then their most recent evaluation/inspection report should be prominently displayed in the main area where you and anyone else that is interested can read it. Look on the front page under DEFICIENCIES. This is the most important section. You want to look for things like: Student to Teacher Ratio not followed, Students left unattended, Director of the center is not qualified, Health Hazards, etc. When you see deficiencies on the report make sure you ask the Center Director to explain them to you, and make sure you feel 100% comfortable with his/her explanation before just moving on to the next part of the tour.
(5) Is the facility accredited? That’s right I said accredited. Child Care Facilities just like schools can get academic accreditations. This goes back to number 2 above when you asked about a curriculum. Elementary Schools, High Schools, and Colleges all seek accreditation. That is how you know they are worthy of your attendance. Child Care Centers do the same thing. The most common child care accreditation is NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) http://www.naeyc.org/. Child Care Centers can also obtain accreditation through AdvancEd http://www.advanc-ed.org/. AdvanceEd is the ideal education accreditation. Any center with a current accreditation from AdvancEd has proven themselves as a leader in the education field. Doesn’t your child deserve every advantage he/she can get?
(6) Does the center serve a well-balanced meal plan? Child Care centers, for the safety of your child and every other child in the facility should provide snacks and meals for every student. That doesn’t mean it always happens. A lot of centers make the parents pack a lunch and bring in snacks every day. My feeling is that the cost of meals should be an expense the center takes on. This ensures every child is served a healthy well-balanced meal each day – Double check the centers menu though, you don’t want to just take their word for it. You shouldn’t see a lot of cookies, juice, or sweets on the menu. Those types of things should be the occasional item for special occasions. Look for a vegetable, fruit, and a main dish to include a protein, along with milk at lunch. You should be seeing a nutritious breakfast snack and a light afternoon snack. Your child shouldn’t have to go all afternoon without eating. Centers should also provide occasional snacks if the children get hungry between meals. Kids eat more when they are going through growth spurts – make sure the center can accommodate.
(7) Lastly, and this isn’t really a question, but more an observation you should make as you tour the facility. Do the teachers talk to you and make you feel welcome as you enter their classroom? If they don’t make you feel welcome what makes you think they will act any differently when your child comes in each day. Is the Center Director/Assistant Director knowledgable about the center, the state/federal regulations, education, and child care in general? Ask a lot of questions and find out just how much the management team really knows. They need to be the experts because they are the ones that are going to ensure your child’s safety, education, and treatment. Make sure the managers are qualified and that you are 100% comfortable with the fact that they will be in charge of how your child is treated each and every day. Is the staff (management and teaching staff) educated? Just because they are teaching children between the ages of 6 weeks and Pre-Kindergarden doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be educated. The best early education facilities are hiring teachers even for the infant classrooms. Your child’s teacher should have a minimum of a high school education and at least three to four years experience in child care. However, preferably, and especially for the children that are 2 years and older the teachers should have a minimum of an early education degree or a related field (or going to school currently for a degree in education or a related field).
So, these are just a few things you need to look for when searching for the perfect center. If you have questions about other child care related issues feel free to comment and ask. I worked in the child care industry as a center Director and I would be happy to share my knowledge.