Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Finding Childcare - How do I do find someone as good as me?

“I’m going to need four weeks off to visit my family,” said my nanny to me one morning as I was rushing around trying to get my coffee and breakfast so that I would not be late for work.  I nearly choked on my breakfast. 

“Really?  When?” I asked, my heart rate already racing with fear as I awaited the response.

“Well, my sister is having a baby in two weeks, and I’d like to be there to help her,” she says nonchalantly.  “It’s her first baby, and you know how hard that can be!”  She looks at me for understanding and empathy. 

“In two weeks?!” I sputter.  Then recovering from my incredulity, I stop and realize how I must sound to her.  “Oh, wow.”  Then I started to think about our family’s hectic schedule the next few weeks.  Between tae kwon do, gymnastics, piano, swimming, school and work…. This was going to be a challenge without help.  And of course… my husband was going to be out of town.  Great.

So, I said, “Ummm, I can understand that you’d want to help her. But that’s really going to be hard on us.  Can you give me more time to find other arrangements?”

“I’ve already booked my airplane tickets,” she explained.  “You know how expensive it can be to fly.  The price was really good and so my husband bought the tickets.  We’ll only be gone for three weeks or so.”


Now… I love my nanny.  She’s been with our family for years.  She wonderful with my children and they adore her.  Finding a good person who you can trust to take care of your children can be one of the most stressful times in a parent’s life.  Once you find someone, you will do nearly anything to keep that person happy (at least it feels that way sometimes). 

This is true for any type of childcare it seems – nannies, daycares, preschools, babysitters.  I know parents who drive well out of their way from home or work to keep their kids in the same preschool to minimize the disruption for their child and to avoid having to look for another caretaker. 

So, how do find that wonderful person or childcare provider?  If you’ve never done this before, start with asking people around you who have been through the process recently.  While everyone has specific needs and different criteria for childcare, it will help you to narrow down your search.  Make sure to start well in advance (at least a few months) before you will actually need the childcare.  Then make sure you have a backup plan for when your childcare falls through.   

Daycares – these should be licensed.  Take a tour.  Take a list of questions to ask during your tour.  You can find several lists online, or in my book “Dr. Sandy’s Top to Bottom Guide to Your Newborn.”  Often, you can tell just by the feeling you get while you are there.  Is it clean?  Do the providers seem like they care about the children?  Are the children happy?  For babies, is someone with them, or are the babies just sitting alone in swings?  Does the location and cost suit your needs?  Are the hours what you need?  Is there a waitlist? 

Home daycares – these are smaller and may provide more individualized care for your child.  These may not be licensed in some states. This can make it harder to ensure the quality of a home daycare.  Some states have certifying boards for home daycares.  While this does not guarantee safety and ability, it will at least mean that the daycare has met basic standards.  Speak to the parents of other children who are there to see what they think of the daycare provider.  You should be able to get references for the daycare provider.  Spend time visiting the day care and consider randomly stopping when your child is there.

Nanny/babysitter – this is usually someone who lives with you or someone who comes to your house.  There are many services that can help you find potential sitters. If you belong to a homeowner’s association or have a community center, you may be able to find or place an ad. It is a good idea to interview several candidates before deciding on someone. Ideally, you would have one interview without your child present so you can go through the first round of questioning.  Then do a second interview with a candidate with your child present.  This will allow you to observe his or her interactions with your child.   You can find suggested interview questions online and in my book.  Some of your questions should include experience with childcare, how she would react in sample scenarios of emergencies or in routine situations. Check to see if she is certified in child and infant CPR.  Does she smoke?  Is she comfortable around pets? (if you have any)  Has she had traffic tickets or been in any accidents (if she will be driving your child)?  You can do background checks for a small fee easily to rule out criminal history, including sex offender crimes.  Checking references will be very important to get information about that person’s character and work ethic. 

Aupairs - this can be an economical way to find flexible childcare if you have the space to have someone live with you.  Aupairs are usually young adults who are interested in coming the U.S. for a year to learn more about American culture in exchange for taking care of your child.  This can be a great way to expose your child to multiple cultures from around the world.  There can be a bit more work involved on your part since you are responsible for helping this person transition into the American culture and you need to help them with meetings requirements such as taking classes while they are here (part of the exchange visa requirement).  In general, the cost is less than hiring a nanny and the hours are more flexible than what you may be able to get with other types of childcare. 

Finding childcare can be stressful.  However, there are many wonderful childcare providers available.  Put the work into researching and doing the necessary background and reference checks.  It will pay off in the long run.

In the meantime, I’m going to start calling my neighbors and friends… because as wonderful as your childcare provider may be, it’s vital to have a backup system just in case your child cannot go to childcare or your provider decides to leave for a vacation!

Thanks for reading!