Five tips for finding suitable childcare

Finding suitable childcare for my kids has monopolized a significant amount of time and energy over the years. Our childcare situation has been more complicated in some months compared to others, most notably when I returned to work full time when my babies were each three and seven months old and when my nanny went on a maternity leave of her own. As my family's needs have changed, we have tried different childcare arrangements: nanny sharing, employing our own nanny, daycare and day home. The most recent dilemma occurred when our full time nanny left us to go to university this past fall.

I've learned a few things when it comes to finding the right childcare provider, including that some of the most valuable tips come from listening to the experiences of other parents. The list below, which outlines some important questions to ask before you make a decision about childcare, is based on the experiences of a multitude of parents. 

These are the top five things I wish I would have known when I first started looking for childcare. 

1.    Find a childcare arrangement that is best for you and your family. 

In addition to financial considerations, each family will have their own unique needs, priorities, values and personalities to consider. There is no one type fits all childcare arrangement. 

2.    Start early and explore as many childcare options as possible before you make a decision.

Depending on the available options where you live, it may be necessary to start looking a number of weeks or even months before you need a childcare provider. If demand is high, you may need to put your name on wait lists while you are pregnant or immediately after your baby is born. Regardless, try not to settle for the first available option you check out, even if you think it's great (especially if it's your first time looking for childcare!). There is no denying that this can be a very time consuming process, but knowing that you’ve made a decision based on all of the childcare options available to you should give you some peace of mind when you leave your little one with their new caregiver. 

3.    Ask childcare providers the right questions. 

Using selection criteria that is in line with your values can help parents avoid surprises after a childcare arrangement has begun. Don't feel bad for asking a lot of questions, requesting a second or third interview with candidates, or requesting a trial visit – informed decision making is very important when it comes to childcare! Here are some examples of questions you might want to consider asking, especially if you are looking at daycares and day homes rather than hiring a nanny (this other resource is helpful if you’re specifically interested in hiring a nanny):

  • Cost and convenience - Ask about availability and flexibility, including overtime if needed. Location and transportation considerations may also be important.
  • Work experience and specialized skills & training - Inquire about the childcare provider's prior work experience, including the ages of the children they've care for. Confirm that they have up to date First Aid and CPR training as well as other relevant training and experience. Don't forget to perform a thorough reference check!
  • Accreditations - Is the daycare or day home accredited and in good standing under applicable laws? Have you seen a current police check for the childcare provider? Are they able to work in your country of residence?
  • Character and demeanour - Does the childcare provider genuinely enjoy looking after children? Whether or not your child connects with them can be telling as well.
  • Cleanliness and safety - You should always be comfortable with the environment your child will be in, both inside and outdoors. Health, safety and wellbeing are a priority!
  • Child to adult ratio policy - Inquire about the number and ages of the children cared for at one time, currently and in the future (this may change if the daycare or day home is not at full capacity when you are given a tour).
  • General policies and procedures - Ask about the rules regarding discipline, eating, napping, quiet time and potty training. It can make things difficult, not to mention confusing for children, when the values of the childcare provider do not align with those of the parents. Also ask about their ability to accommodate special needs, and related policies.
  • Daily schedule - You should be comfortable with the general schedule. This includes designated times for eating, napping and quiet time, etc. More specific consideration are listed below.
    • Is there a nanny cam? Find out if parents have the ability to go online and see what their kids are up to during the day.
    • What are the activities that the kids do? Find out what indoor and outdoor activities the children would do during the day.
    • What is the policy regarding TV and the use of other electronic devices? Ask how long children are permitted to watch television and play with electronic devices for each day.
    • When are meals and snack times? Is there flexibility in terms of allowing children to eat and drink when they are hungry or thirsty? Where are they permitted to do so?
  • Nutrition - What types of food and drinks are offered? Do they accommodate food allergies, sensitivities and special requests? Some daycares and day homes do not permit any outside food even if parents are willing to bring it for all of the children being cared for.
  • Deposit requirements and terms of the contract - Is a deposit required, and if so, is it refundable? What are the terms of the childcare agreement? Note the requirements for ending the childcare arrangement such as a 30-day notice period for cancellation.

4.    Don’t aim for perfection but do know your deal breakers. 

Being discerning is a must when it comes to your child's health, safety and wellbeing, but be mindful that you may not find the perfect childcare provider or arrangement. Managing expectations can sometimes be easier said than done, especially if you are looking for someone with a specific set of credentials. Not every childcare provider is going to have early childhood education training or speak more than one language, however they should have appropriate First Aid and CPR training. To help rank the childcare options available to you in order of preference, make a checklist of the things that are important to you and prioritize them in descending order (the list at tip #3 above is a pretty good starting point).   

5.    Always have a backup plan. 

Things may not work out as planned for a variety of different reasons. This is where having spent the time up front to explore a number of childcare options can be extremely helpful. Depending on where you live, it may be worth putting your child's name on one or more daycare wait lists or maintaining an online membership with a nanny agency just in case you need to use it.

Other related posts:

Things you should know if you plan to hire a nanny
Exploring the idea of a nanny share
Parent's Guide to Childcare