5 Tips for Choosing a Daycare
How co-parents can find childcare options and make an informed decision.
Whether you're looking for a partial daycare for toddlers or a full-time facility that cares for infants, finding the best childcare option for your kids can be a stressful experience. The search may be even more complicated for co-parents with joint custody of their children. Although it can seem easy compared to other parenting decisions, choosing the right daycare for a child requires meticulous research and open conversations. With so many factors involved, many co-parents need guidance in determining where and how to start vetting their options. Here are 5 tips to help guide your search for the right daycare for your child.
1. Understand your options
While most parents picture the typical daycare when considering childcare options, various providers offer unique programming for child development in different settings. These variations from standard childcare ensure that every family seeking care can find a provider that fits their child's needs.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children & Families (ACF), childcare options include:
- Traditional childcare centers
- Family childcare homes
- Head Start and Early Head Start programs
- Preschool or pre-k programs
- School-age childcare and camp programs
- Childcare for military families
In addition to various structures, childcare can be offered through:
- Individual owners
- For-profit businesses
- Government agencies
- Public schools
- Faith-based institutions
- Community organizations
Depending on your circumstances, some childcare settings may suit your preferences and your child's needs better than others. A school-age program may be a good fit for children whose parents have shared custody, work full-time, and need childcare before and after school or during summer break. Family childcare homes offer greater flexibility and may be better suited for children who need a temporary or infrequent daycare option. Before investigating individual facilities and providers, you and your co-parent should review your respective needs and expectations to look for a specific environment that best serves your situation.
2. Look for recommendations
Word-of-mouth recommendations are a great way to find your area's best places and services, and daycare facilities are no exception to that approach. Talking with others who either previously or currently send their children to some form of daycare is an effective way to add to or narrow your prospective options. Whether you meet another parent at your doctor's office or have a close friend whose child receives childcare, asking for their advice and recommendations is a helpful and productive approach.
In seeking information about childcare providers from other parents, consider talking to your:
- Family members
- Child's pediatrician
In addition to talking with other parents in person, the internet offers many resources to aid your search for childcare. Many childcare providers have websites and pages on review sites where parents leave public feedback. Social media, public forums, and other online platforms are additional sources that help parents connect with other parents and learn about their children's experiences at prospective locations. Additionally, directories of state-specific resources are available through websites run by government offices like the ACF.
3. Check standards and credentials
In addition to learning about public opinion toward a childcare facility, it's crucial to learn about a provider's qualifications at the state and national levels. To ensure the health and safety of every child in another person's care, providers must abide by state licensing requirements.
These requirements set standards for:
- Criminal background checks for staff
- Ongoing training for CPR, first aid, and safe sleep
- Educational programming
- Staff-to-children ratios
- Emergency planning
- Building safety
- Child and caregiver health
While licensing usually indicates that a childcare provider meets higher standards, your state may consider specific programs license-exempt and not require a license to operate legally. Some states may not require licenses for specific center-based childcare programs or in-home childcare.
License-exempt providers usually include:
- Programs managed by public schools
- Faith-based or part-time programs
- Military childcare programs
- In-home care provided by a relative
- Small-group in-home caregivers
- Occasional, short-term in-home care
For parents seeking additional qualifications from potential childcare facilities, certain providers signal their excellence through earned accreditations from national organizations to showcase their higher-than-average standards. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) offers accreditation to group daycare centers that establish and maintain higher standards of care. Home-based childcare providers that strive to deliver higher-quality childcare are accredited by the National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC).
4. Ask thorough questions
As a parent searching for the best childcare option for your child, there's no such thing as asking too many questions. Once you narrow your selections to a handful of facilities, you and your co-parent should prepare a list of questions to ask each location's staff when you tour your prospective options. If you're curious about any aspect of a provider's offerings or are unsure of their policies, ask questions to get clarification. By asking each facility the same questions and comparing their answers, you can discover which options offer more benefits than others.
Some questions to ask may include:
- What happens if a parent is late to pick up their child?
- How does pick-up work for children in shared custody?
- How are vacations and holidays scheduled?
- How much does childcare cost?
- Can parents pay extra for additional services?
- What is the disciplinary policy?
- Is there a transportation policy?
- Are there current references that can be contacted?
- Is the facility licensed or accredited?
- Is there a qualified health professional on-site?
- What are the standard class sizes?
- What is the maximum child-to-staff ratio?
5. Work with your co-parent
Parents with joint legal custody need to work efficiently with their child's other parent when looking for and choosing a daycare. Whether your custody schedule is an even 50/50 split or a less balanced 70/30, you and your co-parent have an equal say in making decisions for your child.
Because reviewing potential childcare providers can be an extensive process, it's beneficial to begin and end the search together to stay on the same page, especially if your child is going to attend more than one daycare. Discuss any concerns or expectations openly, knowing that transparency will ultimately help you find the best option for your child. By reaching a decision together, modifying your parenting plan to reflect your choice of childcare arrangement will be easier.
In working with your co-parent, topics you should discuss together may include:
- Whether daycare pick-ups will substitute custody exchanges
- How shared expenses will be covered
- What priorities you both have for your child's care
- Any concerns about a specific provider or childcare format
- How far away a provider can be from either home
While successful co-parenting is a reality for some parents, making joint decisions can be difficult in certain circumstances. Although it's not impossible, having productive conversations about childcare or other parenting topics can be difficult in high-conflict co-parenting situations. In any case, it's crucial to prioritize your child's best interests while working with your child's other parent in choosing a daycare.
Clear communication is essential for successful co-parenting, whether you're making a major decision for your child or managing day-to-day life as a co-parent. For many parents, a co-parenting communication service can be an invaluable asset. TalkingParents offers an all-inclusive, cost-effective tool to help co-parents navigate shared parenting.
Using our platform, parents can send messages with their top daycare picks, discuss childcare options through phone and video calls, coordinate their child’s daycare schedule on a shared calendar, manage shared payments like daycare fees, and more without switching between apps. Additionally, every action is documented in an Unalterable Record, making it easier for parents to reference past conversations and provide supplemental evidence for parenting plan modifications.