Child Care - Child care and day care

Once you have a child, you make a choice about how that child is to be cared for during the years before school. The majority of families in the United States can no longer afford to have one parent stay home to raise a child. This means that, for at least part of the week, the child will be cared for by someone other than a parent.

Most parents have caretakers either come to their home or they drop the child off at the caretaker's place. The child will be there three to eight hours a day. Some children are in child care for up to twelve hours, depending on the parents’ schedule.

For children with only one primary caretaker, and this counts for more than one quarter of American children, time in day care is essentially the same amount of time as the average adult full-time employee. The quality of the care is as influential on the child's upbringing as the quality of the parental care received during non-work hours. Because of this, child care selection is extremely important to the safety and well-being of any child entrusted to someone else.

Child Care in the Home

Nannies, au pairs, child care workers, and babysitters are the names for people who come to, or live in, the homes of the child for whom they care. The arrangements can range from one caretaker to one child, to one caretaker for two or three families’ small children. The ability of the parents to pay for child care determines the type of care selected.

Few families can afford the salary and the living space required of the live-in nanny. For those who can, the nanny provides a registered, reliable, trained caretaker who will supervise the child for as many years as the parents deem necessary. Au pairs are much the same type of worker, except they usually do not have educational training for child care. They tend to be younger workers, less likely to stay for more than a year or two in the same position. Many au pairs are foreign students seeking a chance to live abroad for a while.

Child care workers and babysitters may come to take care of the child during assigned hours. They may live somewhere else and their work hours are scheduled for regular work patterns. They may work for one family, or a few families may pool together resources and use one caretaker for several children. One child care worker should care for no more than four or five children at a time, to provide the best safety and education for the children.

When hiring someone to come watch your children in your home, several things should be considered. The most important is to check the personal history of whomever is being considered. This now means going beyond personal recommendations. Check for police records, work papers, history of employment, and any other documentation that the person can provide to show stability, reliability, honesty, and integrity while working with children . In most situations, the caretaker will be unsupervised while working with your small children. Children's versions of events may not fully explain events you should know about, or may exaggerate problems with the caretaker that are not important. You have to have complete faith that this person is delivering the service you expect in a manner that meets with your full approval. If you have the opportunity to observe at least one full day of activity under the care of the worker, you should take it. This gives you a sample of how your child will spend important hours of his development. It also allows you to watch how a worker deals with the frustrations and problems that come up every day when dealing with youngsters.

Child Care Centers and Programs

Many states are now requiring registration of child care centers. Even for individuals who run informal-style child care in their own home, licensing may be required. The state will set up rules of how much space is needed per child, how many staff employees per child, what kind and variety of food is to be served, what activities are allowed, and what type of insurance is needed to cover for accidents while at the center. Check to see if your state has a licensing program, and what the licensing requirements are. If your state does have such a program, you should only use licensed facilities for your child. If there is no mandatory licensing, find out if there is a voluntary licensing program for day care. You should check references thoroughly for programs that have no governmental inspection. Even with licensing, you want to ask the same types of questions that the licensor asks:

  1. • How many staff per student?
  2. • With whom is a sick staff member replaced?
  3. • What food is provided for the children?
  4. • What activities are provided for?
  5. • What instruction and education is the child given?
  6. • What are the age ranges of the children enrolled?
  7. • How many children does the facility accommodate?
  8. • How many children per classroom or room?
  9. • Are any activities off the center grounds? Is permission obtained in advance to take the child off the grounds?
  10. • What is the policy for sick children? Are they allowed in the classroom? If a child is brought to the center, obviously sick, what procedures are followed by the day care staff?
  11. • If a child gets sick or injured while at day care, what procedures are followed?
  12. • What is the policy of allowing children to leave with someone other than a parent? Is advance notice required? Is the parent the only acceptable guardian to be picking up a child? (Although it may seem initially that you would only want a parent picking a child up, you may wish to carpool, or have a babysitter or a relative pick up a child. You want to make absolutely sure, though, that the child cannot leave with anyone who walks in and asks to take the child home.)
  13. • What are their hours? What are their pickup times? If you are late, what do they do with the child?
  14. • What is the discipline policy of the center? (This is of fundamental importance that the policies be explained in advance of enrollment.)
  15. • Do they expel children? For what reasons?

Look around the facilities. Are they clean, well kept, and brightly lit? Are there appropriate ranges and types of toys for your child's age? Are there any safety violations or potentially dangerous aspects to the room's design (such as an open staircase without guardgates).

Attend the facilities while day care is in session. Observe the interaction of the children to see if they are well cared for, occupied in a manner you find suitable, and playing or interacting positively. Get references from parents whose children are the same age as yours and are currently using the day care program.

Once you have enrolled in the program, continue to monitor the classroom atmosphere. Occasionally drop by early before picking a child up to watch the activities. Continue to talk to other parents who have children in the same program. And, above all, continue to talk to and listen to your child about how he has spent his day.

Day care can be one of the most influential and rewarding experiences for a child. Your child will learn to interact with other adults, and perhaps other children, depending on the type of care you select. It will provide him or her with early educational experience that will be the foundation of the entire learning experience. If it is a positive experience from the start, it is likely that your child will continue to enjoy learning throughout his or her lifetime.

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