Selecting childcare for your baby can be an overwhelming task for any parent. As a parent you want to feel at ease while you are away   from your baby and selecting the right care for your baby will help with that. Many parents even begin thinking about their child care options before the baby arrives. This is probably a good idea since sometimes there are limited spots for infants in child care.

Firstly, one must decide whether they would prefer formal or informal child care. Affordability can be a big factor in this decision so checking out the costs for each, is one of the first steps to take. As you read on, note the use of the word “business” in reference to child care. It is important to realize that child care is a business and that it requires the same level of respect that any office, nursing, or other profession deserves. Vice versa, parents should expect a professional, nurturing, stimulating and caring professional and learning environment for their child.

Informal care may involve bringing someone into your home to care for your baby, or taking your baby out, to the child care provider’s home. Formal care is often referred to as daycare, child care, or nursery school, where the baby is placed in a school-like, group care setting. Each has its own merits and challenges and in the end parents should be well informed and confident in their choice.   People care for children in their homes for a variety of reasons; an interest in child development, a form of income, the ability to stay at home   and care for their own children, etc. Whatever the reason, this is a chosen profession and there should be high expectations on the       part of the caregiver and the parent whom is utilizing the service.

Hiring someone to care for your baby in your home can be quite attractive. The baby is more familiar with the setting and parents don’t have to worry about picking up or dropping off the baby, as well as carting around the necessities like diapers, changes of clothes, etc.  The amount of work involved is minimized. As well, the caregiver can utilize the resources already located in the home. There can be challenges to this arrangement though. Some families face a feeling of intrusiveness on their space, even with the most respected caregiver. Having another person moving within your personal space can take some getting used to. There can be misunderstandings or confusion about the role of the caregiver and expectations connected to caring for the home itself. This should be discussed and an arrangement agreed upon before the relationship begins.

When considering home child care outside the baby’s home, parents must consider location, the caregivers home set up, their qualifications and availability, as well as cost. Many quality caregivers are found by word of mouth; where one parent recommends another. Often caregivers register themselves with organized child care representative agencies that monitor their home child care business. Other caregivers will promote their business through resource centres and print (newspapers, grocery store postings, etc).

Formalized child care in Ontario, also known as daycare, or child care, must be licensed with the Ministry of Child and Youth and be regulated by the Day Nurseries Act (Government of Ontario, 2011). This act mandates that certain requirements are met in the provision  of care to young children. This includes legalities around group size, staffing qualifications, nutrition, safety, health, programming, to name a few (http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/regs/english/elaws_regs_900262_e.htm).

There are important considerations to be made when thinking about formalized care.

The following are important considerations and questions to ask when considering informal and formal child care for your baby.  Each of these questions are designed to stimulate thought and conversation about your expectations and the expectations of the caregiver or agency. Most providers of care require parents to read, discuss and sign a ‘contract.’ At first thought this may seem unnecessary but as in any business arrangement, it is important to understand the perimeters. In this way, the details are taken care of and the focus can be on quality care and nurturing of your baby.

Informal Care:

  • Is the location close to my home or work?
  • What are the hours of operation? Is there ability for flexible days/hours?
  • Are there other children in the home? Pets?
  • How many children will you care for? What are the ages?
  • Are there other adults in the home that will have access to my child?
  • Does the caregiver provide backup care if they themselves are sick, or require time off?
  • What are the costs of childcare? Should I expect increases over time? As my child gets older will there be decreases in cost of care? Do I pay when I am not using the service?
  • What sorts of meals and snacks do you provide?
  • What is your policy if my child is ill? What are the procedures if my child becomes sick? Will you provide care for my child if they have a fever or a cold? Do you administer medication? How? When?
  • What sort of programming do you offer throughout the day?
  • Will the children be involved in regular outdoor play?
  • How have you safety proofed your home/centre?
  • What areas of the house do the children have access to? Ask them for a tour.
  • What are the sleeping/rest arrangements?
  • What are your behaviour guidance techniques?
  • How do you handle difficult situations with parents?
  • Can you provide references?
  • Do you provide a receipt for care?
  • How do you handle confidentiality related to my child and my family?

Formalized Care:

  • Many of the questions above will apply
  • What are the qualifications of the educators?
  • What is the Early Childhood Educator’s experience with infants?
  • What is the centre philosophy of child development
  • What is the educators understanding of infant development?
  • How do you handle separation anxiety?
  • What is your policy on ill health?
  • How do they guide behaviour?
  • How do you feel about parent visits during the day? Phone calls?

Whether you are choosing informal or formal care for your baby it is important that you take the time to research your options. Interview several providers so that you get a feel for what you are looking for. Try to arrange a time where you can stay and observe their interactions with other children and adults. Be hyper alert to what is going on and don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek clarification. You are asking this person to take care of a part of you that you hold dearest. If you are feeling positive, try to arrange a few test runs before you actually commit to the arrangement. This way you can test the waters. Remember though, your baby is new to this person and will likely cry when you leave and when you return. This is normal.

In the end, after you have learned everything you can, consider what your instincts are telling you. You are the best judge for what fits your baby, you, and your family.

Sarah Roarke – Kids Can Fly Board Member/Program Coordinator, Early Childhood Education-Intensive, Mohawk College