When it's time to go back to work after the birth of you baby or when you feel the time is right, you will need child care. If you decide to look outside the home, this of three things before anything else:
1. Quality is a priority. A safe, nurturing, and consistent program is vital.
2. Affordability is a real consideration because child care is expensive due to the high ratio of staff to child. A program may have a sliding scale system or other cost-saving options.
3. Accessibility means the provider is close to your home or place of work. Easy access reduces stress for both parent and child.
Types of child care
There are small and large home and group daycare centers, as well as nursery school programs and informal play groups.
Group day care centers offer the most formal and very often the most interesting and engaging programs. Children are assigned rooms by age: infant, toddler, preschool, and (in some cases) kindergarten. The toddlers usually are divided into older and younger toddlers and preschool generally starts at two years and nine months.
In most centers, the ratio of infants to staff is three to one; for toddlers, it's four to one for the first four children and then five to one for the next five. For preschoolers, it's ten to one, but usually no fewer than two staffers for 17 children.
Home daycare centers offer more homey environments. Licensing requirements vary by state and county. If your state licenses these centers, make sure any you consider are licensed.
As a rule, small home daycare centers have six children and one provider, with ages ranging from infant to school-age. Larger home centers may have as many as 12 children, with one provider and an assistant.
Nursery school programs cater to children at least two years and nine months old and offer a formal program. These are nearly always part time.
Play groups are usually organized by a group of mothers or a local organization such as the "Y." They meet several times a week for a few hours.
When searching for daycare, talk to other parents. This is perhaps the best solution and will help you make your decision.
Make use, too, of local childcare agencies, the Internet, the Yellow Pages, advertisements in local newspapers and magazines, and even those posted on community bulletin boards. The libary is another resource.
Once you identify a center, make appointments for you and your child to visit. Observe carefully and ask as many questions as possible.
When it comes to your child's safety and happiness, and your peace of mind, no question is too trivial. The answers you get combined with observations and instinct will allow you to make the right choice.