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    Choosing Child Care Service

    Whether you are looking for a day care center or at-home care, choosing child care service requires doing your homework.

    The Search Goes On continued...

    Seek a staff-to-child ratio that allows each youngster to get plenty of attention. "In the case of infants, a ratio of two babies per caregiver is ideal," says Greenspan.

    According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, child-care centers should provide no less than one adult caregiver per three infants less than 24 months old. For older children, acceptable ratios are:

    • One adult per four children 25 to 30 months old
    • One adult per five children 31 to 35 months old
    • One adult per seven children at age 3 years old
    • One adult per eight children 4 to 5 years old

    In addition to numbers, ask about the turnover of staff and look for consistency in personnel. "The caretaker should be a permanent fixture," says Schiller. "You don't want a caretaker who keeps the job for two weeks and quits, and then someone else comes in and doesn't stay long either."

    Talking Money, Talking Quality

    Costs of child care service can vary widely by region. "You should seek the best care you can buy with your dollar," says Workman.

    Using a nanny or au pair is an increasingly popular trend, even though it is generally more expensive to have someone come into the home to care for a child one-on-one. "If you can afford it, this can be a good choice for the first couple years of life," says Schiller. "Once the child is 3 and 4 years old, then social interaction becomes critical, and you want children to have the experiences that occur in groups."

    Ask whether the center or private home is licensed or registered with the appropriate state or local government agencies, which means that the program is visited regularly for inspections, says Workman.

    Keep in mind that no matter where your baby is cared for, this is a time of rapid development of her brain as well as her body. "It's important that children are read to, talked to, and sung to during the first year because so much of the wiring of the brain is taking place," says Schiller. "If children are in a child-care setting where no one ever speaks to them, then a very important window of opportunity is missed for that child's cognitive development."

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