Especially as a first-time parent, the idea of sending your baby to be cared for by strangers can be overwhelming. However, for many working parents, it’s a reality they have to face during their baby’s first year.
It’s not always easy to find the right daycare center for your baby, but being prepared and knowing what to look for can make the process simpler. Before you start visiting daycare centers in your area, make sure you know what makes a great daycare and have a list of questions to ask on your visit. Established safety procedures for children and staff is the most important quality, no matter what type of daycare you visit.
If you’re searching for a daycare center or will be in the future, keep reading to find out how you can evaluate each center to find the best one for your baby.
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What should you look for when evaluating a daycare?
Beginning the process of finding a daycare center can bring up a lot of emotions. Even in the best circumstances, it’s hard to leave your baby with someone else, but there are centers out there that can be a great fit for your family. Often, it’s just a matter of finding the right one and knowing where to begin.
When you’re evaluating a daycare, the first thing you want to do is set up a time to meet with the director or owner of the center and visit the daycare in person. Your visit may take anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour and to get the most out of your visit, it’s crucial to have all your questions prepared ahead of time.
There are likely numerous daycares in your area and if you don’t know what to look for, it’s easy to choose a daycare simply based on availability or location. As any experienced parent will tell you, it is often worth it to wait to get into a daycare or drive a little farther if it’s a good fit for your family. There are many qualities you should look for when evaluating a daycare center, including:
- Caring and qualified staff members
The staff members of the center are the number one concern when it comes to safety. Even if the daycare center is licensed, it’s important that you know what qualifications are required for staff members, what their hiring process is, and what their staff turnover rate is. It’s a good sign when they have teachers or caretakers that have been at the daycare for many years, but if they have staff members consistently quitting, this can be a red flag.
- Clean and safe daycare rooms
When you tour a daycare, always make sure to take a look at the room your baby will be in. Even a quick walkthrough of the room for your child’s age group will give you an idea of what their day will be like, as well as an idea of how the center runs. You may not be able to visit a classroom while children are present during the day but even looking at the setup and cleanliness of the room will help you make a decision about the center.
- Clear sanitation procedures
Sanitation procedures should be well-established in every daycare center. Especially with younger children or babies, frequent sanitation is critical to keep everyone healthy. When babies and toddlers are constantly putting toys in their mouths, you want to ensure the staff is sanitizing toys and other parts of the room at the end of the day. Be sure to also ask how they handle outbreaks of certain illnesses that can spread quickly throughout daycare centers such as the flu or hand, foot, and mouth disease.
- Established safety protocols
Emergencies are the kind of thing you don’t want to think about as a parent, but it will give you peace of mind to know your child’s daycare center is prepared if one occurs. You might ask the daycare center how frequently they do fire drills or tornado drills, and what their protocol is in the case of other emergencies. In a safe daycare center, all staff members should be trained to know what to do to keep the children in their care safe.
- Caring and qualified staff members
- Positive reviews from parents
Sometimes other parents in your area are the best way to find a daycare center. Whether it’s through online reviews or word of mouth, check with other parents before choosing a local center. It’s not uncommon for parents in the community to know which daycare centers are the best, and they may even give you some great recommendations.
What should you bring to daycare for your child?
When your child first starts daycare, it takes a while for both you and your child to transition. If you’re getting ready for your baby’s first week, make sure your baby has everything they need for their time spent there. What your baby might need will depend on the type of daycare since some places such as home daycares, may provide more than large daycare centers. In general, you’ll want to send your baby with:
- Diaper rash cream
- Change of clothes
- Milk or formula with bottles
- Stuffed animal, lovey, or other comfort items
There are some items, such as bedding, that may be necessary at some daycares but not all. Check with the daycare provider you choose to find out what you need to bring for your baby.
How can I tell if a daycare is safe?
Especially when it comes to safety, feel free to ask as many questions as you need to during your visit. Your child’s safety is your top priority, and the safety of all children in the daycare should be the daycare center’s top priority as well. You’re not being overprotective by bringing a list of questions with you and most daycare providers will appreciate that you’re prepared with questions.
Daycare centers may differ in their structure, appearance, and processes, and even though two daycares may look different, they can both be safe. But there are some minimum standards for what daycares need to be a safe place for your child. Every daycare on your list should have:
- Security measures to ensure children are only picked up by approved caregivers
- Extensive safety plans in case of an emergency
- Clear check-in and check-out procedures
- Immunization and sick child policies
- Safe sleep spaces for infants based on the standards of the American Academy of Pediatrics
- Staff members who are trained in CPR and first aid
- Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors that are regularly monitored
Licensing regulations for daycare centers and home daycares will vary by state so be sure to check out the requirements in your area before you visit a daycare.
What’s the difference between a daycare center and a home daycare?
When you’re looking for a daycare near you, you may notice that some daycares are considered home daycares, which means the children are cared for in someone’s home. Although there are some misconceptions about home daycares, if you find the right one, they can be a great fit for many families. Some of the major differences between home daycares and daycare centers are:
- They are typically run by a caretaker in their own home
- There are less children than a large center since there is normally only one or two caretakers at the daycare
- There may be less regulations or structure in place depending on the care provider
- Your child will get to know the person caring for them since the caretaker is also the owner
Home daycares can be a great place for many families and tend to be more personal since you don’t have to worry about staff turnover. However, just because it’s in someone’s home doesn’t mean you don’t need to check for safety procedures or processes. A home daycare can also still be licensed and require immunizations, so it’s important to find out about certification as well.
The type of daycare center that works best for your child will depend on your family’s unique situation. There’s no right or wrong answer for what type you should choose but there are minimum standards you should look out for in any daycare you visit.