That's the central issue for a working parent who needs child care, whether it's at a child care center, family child care home, or within the parent's home.
Embedded in that question are certain components that parents can ask about when first considering the center, family home, or in-home care provider (or even after the child has been enrolled at the center or home, or under the nanny's care for a while).
1) Experience and training: How long has the (center or family home) been in business? How long have the (in-home care provider) been taking care of children? What educational and training qualifications are required of staff before they're hired? What (and how much) on-going training and education is provided to staff?
2) Supervision/Reliability: Does the center or home's child/staff ratio meet (or better yet, exceed) licensing regulations? What does the center or home do to ensure that child/staff ratios are maintained when a teacher calls in sick? What is the child care home operator's plan when he/she is sick? Are procedures in place in critical areas such as the playground to ensure teachers are always supervising the children rather than talking with each other about non-work related matters?
3) Turnover: How often does the child experience a new caregiver in his/her room at the center? While turnover happens, extremely frequent turnover (e.g. daily or weekly) might indicate staff discontent with their jobs that goes beyond what might be common for centers as a whole.
4) Communication: How does the center or family home document and communicate about a child's day, including (and especially) about any unusual behaviors that happen during the day?
5) Dietary concerns: How does the center or family home accommodate special diets, whether due to religious convictions, food allergies, or other reasons?
6) Adjustment to the center or home: How does the center or home help children ease into the routine and adjust to non-parent care and interactions with other children for children for whom those situations are causing difficulty?
Some red flags:
1) Minor injuries, such as bite marks, bumps, and bruises, seem to go unnoticed; with no indications that they have been attended to or written up with details of what happened and what was done. Bite marks can be especially problematic if not attended to, due to infection risks if the bite has broken the skin. While these incidents do occasionally happen in the normal course of events, it's a center's or home's staff inattention or unresponsiveness that constitutes a red flag.
2) Evidence that child-staff interactions, as well as child-child interactions, are largely negative in nature; with yelling at children and hurtful physical contact (between children) taking center stage in the atmosphere at the center or family home (whether or not any child suffers demonstrable physical injury as a result).
Some organizational resources for parents in choosing child care, and for centers/homes in training, recruitment, resource & referral and so on:
National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
NAEYC is a professional Early Childhood Organization that offers memberships to child care centers and early childhood education students, puts on conferences and events, provides professional development and an accreditation program for centers, and weighs in on public policy about early childhood education. For parents, NAEYC offers information about what to look for in a program, tips about signs of quality, and the ability to search on their website for an NAEYC accredited program (http://families.naeyc.org)
National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC)
NAFCC is a counterpart to NAEYC for family child care. Their website address is www.nafcc.org/. While this organization doesn't provide a search function for parents looking for child care, many states have child care databases online, both for homes and centers, through which parents can search for child care (some states require log-in to their sites, which are sometimes in conjunction with resource and referral agencies in their states). Also, www.childcarecenter.us provides an extensive database for parents who wish to do their own searches as well.
Resource and Referral Agencies: Many states have these agencies, which provide training and technical assistance to (mostly) family child care businesses, as well as referrals to parents looking for child care (usually for a fee) and child care homes seeking clients.
The author, Susie Redfern, is a former child care teacher and has operated a long-time home business, Metro Profiles, which provides information about child care centers, child care family homes, and general community information, both on- and off-line. Metro Profiles provides a detailed, 5-page Child Care Checklist parents can use when evaluating centers or homes. This checklist is available for the nominal price of $5.00, and can be requested by email. A PayPal invoice will be sent to all people who request the checklist.
Celebrate Potential is a new division of the business, dedicated to helping empower and support people with disabilities. Its website is coming back soon.
Susie Redfern, Owner/Director
Metro Profiles-Celebrate Potential Community Connections
1674 Cumberland Aurora IL 60504; 630-499-5810, firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com www.metroprofiles.com www.celebratepotential.net; www.facebook.com/MetroProfiles www.facebook.com/CelebratePotentialFEN