Visiting and Interviewing Center-Based Child Care Providers (page 2)
The term child care center evokes different images for everyone, depending on background and experience. You may imagine an enormous, rather sterile institution, where large, stern, matronly women are watching more than a hundred small children. Or you may think of the “Mom and Pop” center in the white house at the end of the street, where children are always playing in the fenced-in yard and your teenage daughter is hoping to find a part-time job next spring. Or maybe you remember a newspaper story about a center whose director said the three-year-olds in her care are learning to read and she feels it is important to start academics early.
These and many other images all reflect the real world. Child care centers come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Don’t be confused by this diversity. To make an informed choice, you need to know what features of centers are most important for promoting care of high quality.
Legal Requirements for Centers
All states have regulations governing the design and operation of child care centers. These rules are very important for safeguarding children in the centers’ care. Unlike most other countries, the United States has no national child care regulations. In fact, we are the only nation in the Western world without such national standards. What we do have is a patchwork of different regulations, all established by the state or local jurisdictions, which vary greatly from one state to the next and even within a given state.
The good news is that more and more states are realizing the need to regulate child care. These rules set only a minimum standard. They are designed simply to protect the health and safety of the children in center care but are only the starting points for developing a good program. They are no guarantee of quality. The regulations for centers in your state are available from the local or state child care resource and referral agency or the state regulatory agency in charge of child care.
One of the best national sources for unbiased information about day care center standards is the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) or one of its state or local affiliate groups. NAEYC has issued the following recommendations for group size and teacher/child ratios in child care centers:
Infants: One caregiver/teacher for every two or three children and a total group size of six to nine children.
Toddlers: One caregiver/teacher for every six children and a total group size no larger than twelve children.
Three- and four-year-old children: One caregiver/teacher for every seven children and a total group size no larger than fourteen children.
Five-year-old children: One caregiver/teacher for every eight to ten children and a total group size no larger than twenty children.
Choosing a Child Care Center
Once you have decided that center-based care feels like a good option for your child and your family, you will need to give careful consideration to the centers available in your area. Two general ways to find the child care resources in your community are talking with relatives, neighbors, and friends about their experiences with centers and contacting the local or state child care resource and referral agency for information about the centers that are registered with it. Those two strategies can be used to create a list of centers and to gather opinions about the strengths and weaknesses of each program.
Once you have created the list of centers in your immediate area, you can begin to figure out which one will best meet your needs. If your child is an infant or toddler, you should start this process at least six months before you want your child to begin care. This early start is important because center care for infants and toddlers is so scarce, and there is great demand for available places. Even programs for three- and four-year-olds have waiting lists so make sure to start shopping around six to nine months before you need care.
Finding the right program involves a four-step procedure:
Step 1: Contact programs by telephone.
Step 2: Visit programs that meet your basic requirements.
Step 3: Talk with center directors.
Step 4: Make a choice.
Step 1: Contact Programs by Telephone
Conducting a telephone interview will help you reduce the list of centers to two or three without having to spend time visiting every one on your list. Remember that you are making the calls just to decide whether a visit is worthwhile. The following questions can be used as a guide. Make enough copies of this form so that you have a fresh one available for each call.
These questions fall into three main categories: logistics (where is the center, when is it open, does it have openings), cost, and quality. At this early stage in your investigation your inquiries about quality can be limited to the number of children each caregiver is responsible for (fewer is better!), the number of children in the group, and how much education and training the caregivers have received. You will get into more specifics when you visit particular centers.
Once you have gathered this information about each center in your area, compare your notes and select two or three programs to visit. Don’t let price determine your choice at this stage. Cost may make a big difference in your final decision, but feel free to visit a more expensive program if it sounds good in other ways. This will give you a standard against which you can compare other centers. Who knows, you might be able to work out a deal on the price or a payment schedule that will allow you some flexibility.
Reprinted with the permission of Cornell University. © 2008 Cornell University
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