Visiting and Interviewing Family Child Care Providers (page 2)
Family child care is care provided in someone else’s home for a small number of children, usually of various ages. This type of care offers several possible benefits to children and their parents. Children are usually cared for in small groups, making it easier to meet their individual needs. The setting can be warm, intimate, and informal, like part of the extended family. This makes it particularly attractive for infants and toddlers, who need to be held and helped on their own personal schedules. Because the groups are small, children who are very susceptible to colds and other illness may stay healthier in a family setting than in a center. Often child care homes serve children of various ages, including school-aged kids before and after school, which adds to the family-like experience. Family-based providers may have more flexible schedules than child care centers, making it easier to arrange care outside the typical 7:30 A.M. to 5:30 P.M. time frame. Finally, family child care is less expensive than center care in many parts of the country, although you may want to pay extra so as to help your caregiver provide the highest level of care possible.
Family child care also has disadvantages. Most important, states and localities have only very basic rules governing who can look after children at home and how that care is provided. (Several states have no regulations at all.) What rules exist are not enforced well and are ignored by many home care providers. Often you may be the only judge of the health and safety of a provider’s home and how much she knows about looking after children. In most cases the family child care provider works alone. If she gets sick, you’ll need a backup arrangement. If she goes out of business, you have to scramble to find someone else. And many of the people who look after children in their own homes have no education or training in child development or child care. This isn’t necessarily bad, but in general, trained providers are better at what they do than caregivers without those educational experiences.
Group Family Child Care
Group family child care is provided in someone else’s home by two or more adults, one of whom lives in the home. Some states have a special licensing category for group family child care arrangements, while others simply consider them a type of family child care.
The number of children in a group family child care setting is larger than in regular family child care—often including as many as twelve children. But because there are at least two caregivers, the ratio of children to adults should be about the same, one adult for every six children.
Group family child care homes often function as mini-child care centers, with one or more rooms set aside for child care and environments designed specifically to meet the needs of preschool children (individual storage cubbies, child-sized tables and chairs, designated activity areas). They are usually run by adults who have specialized training in early childhood education and a strong professional orientation. Frequently these providers will have a well-thought-out educational philosophy, which is clearly expressed in writing and reflected in the way they work with children. Often the owner of the home functions as the head teacher of the child care program, with a second adult hired as an assistant.
The licensed group family child care home is a rather new addition to the American child care scene. This alternative has many good things to offer families. If well organized, it has many of the advantages of regular family child care without the disadvantages. The group is a manageable size, and the adult-to-child ratio is good. The family-like environment is easy to maintain, and mixed age groupings (infancy to school age) are possible. Overhead costs are likely to be lower than those of a center, so fees will be a bit lower. But children are not cared for by a lone provider so there is less need to make backup arrangements when a caregiver is sick. The program is almost certain to be licensed and the caregivers to have received some training.
Visiting and Interviewing Family Child Care Providers
It is a good idea to begin comparing family child care programs well in advance of when your child will need care. Give yourself plenty of lead time—at least three months, more if you are looking for infant care. The good family child care programs are popular, so you need to reserve space well in advance. Five steps are involved in selecting a family care provider:
Step 1: Contact providers by telephone and check references.
Step 2: Visit selected homes.
Step 3: Interview providers.
Step 4: Make a choice.
Step 5: Get it in writing.
Step 1: Contact Providers by Telephone and Check References
There may be a large number of family-based providers in your community. If you are working through a resource and referral agency, the referral specialist should have some idea of which providers have openings for a child the age of yours. Try to get as many names as possible from the referral agency, through newspaper ads, and via your own personal network. Once you have those names and telephone numbers, you can do some telephone screening. It is important to remember that you are calling someone at her place of work and that she is responsible for as many as five or six children. Always ask whether it is a good time for her to talk or whether it would be better if you called back at another time.
Each question for the reference has a very specific purpose. The “how long” question will tell you how much experience the reference had with the provider. The “how old” question will tell you whether the provider worked with children your child’s age. Answers to “What did you like?” and “What were you not happy with?” should give you some feel for strengths and weaknesses. But remember that these comments are shaped by the background and previous experience of the reference person, who you probably don’t know. You should also assume that the provider gave you the names of parents likely to have the most positive feelings about her abilities as a caregiver.
Child care always has its difficult moments—both for parents and for providers—so you need to feel that you can raise challenging issues with the caregiver. Do you get a feeling that this will be easy to do? Is she flexible enough to adjust her ways to meet the particular needs of your child?
The words to describe how the provider is with childrenand the activities she does with them should give you a feel for whether her approach to children matches yours and whether your child will feel both secure and stimulated (happy) in her care.
Sometimes caregivers who look after other children along with their own favor their own kids or have a hard time handling feelings of jealousy in their own children. It is important to know whether these problems will be issues for this provider.
Use your own instincts as you listen to the reference talk about her or his experiences with the provider. Try to read between the lines of what you are hearing. Is this person excited about and thankful for the experience with the provider or does she sound unenthusiastic? Is the person volunteering positive examples or giving you only the information you ask for and no more? Does the person sound guarded or protective? What is your own gut reaction to what this person is saying?
Reprinted with the permission of Cornell University. © 2008 Cornell University
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