For many families, child care is a big financial commitment. The costs can climb higher than housing, transportation, food, and even higher education. It can be a challenge to find high-quality child care that is affordable and appealing to the whole family. Fortunately, when looking for the best care for your child, there are usually several programs to consider.
It’s important to find child care that feels comfortable for both you and your child. These tips can help:
Give yourself time. It is important to give yourself plenty of time when looking for care. Plan on looking at least 2 months ahead of your scheduled return to work. If you live in a populous area, it’s especially important to get started early. Consider checking into options before your child is born, if possible.
Do your homework. Ask for recommendations from fellow parents and co-workers. Check online resources, join Facebook groups, and read online reviews. You can also check with state or local regulatory agencies.
Ask questions. It’s important to screen day cares, even those that are competitive in terms of acceptance. Is this center a good fit for your child? If you don’t feel good about the facility or staff, trust your instincts.
Tour. Once you’ve homed in on your top choices, take a tour of each. Keep a list of things you like or are hesitant about for each option.
Check reviews and references. Reach out to families who have used the center’s services. If you don’t have access to their information, do a thorough search of any reviews you can find online.
Verify accreditation. Day-care centers are often accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. This group tracks ratios of adults to children, caregiver history, and health requirements.
Things to Look For in Your Child Care
Choosing child care can be stressful. After all, you want the best for your child. To streamline the process, have a clear list of questions to ask at each facility. Ask the owner, director, or caretaker things like:
- Is the program licensed?
- Are parents allowed to visit at any time?
- What will the daily schedule include for my child?
- What is the disciplinary policy?
- What’s the adult-to-child ratio?
- What training does the staff get?
- Has the staff been trained on mandated reporting?
- Does the facility do employee background checks?
- Is any staff member certified in CPR for children?
- Will my child be supervised at all times?
- What child care credentials or degrees do the caretakers, teachers, or owners have?
- Is the facility safe?
- Do you have a clear emergency plan?
Where to Find Child Care
When seeking care for your child, don’t be afraid to ask about tuition or fees. You’re looking for a program that will help your child thrive, but it’s also important to find one that you can afford. Some lower-cost options include:
Child care subsidies. Every state gets money from the government that is designated for their child care program. Subsidies help families cover child care while they work or attend school.
Head Start programs. Head Start programs are designed to get children ready for school using emotional, social, and mental support. This option is available to families who require financial assistance.
Pre-kindergarten. Each state hosts pre-K programs that care for young children between the ages of 3 and 5. These programs prepare students for the remainder of elementary school at no or low cost to families.
Military-run programs. If you serve or have served in the U.S. military, you may be eligible for free child care run by Child Care Aware of America.
High school and university child care programs. If you’re trying to find child care so you can finish school, there may be financial help available through your local Child Care Aware office. Many colleges also offer child care to support their students. They may host care directly on-campus.
Employer child care. Many employers encourage employees to put part of each paycheck toward child care. These funds are untaxed. Check with your company’s HR department.