Inadequate child care is one of the most controversial and political topics being debated in this country today. How your young children spend their time out of your care will have an enormous impact on how well they perform, both socially and academically, in the future. Some question how welfare mothers can improve their lifestyles when affordable quality daycare is out of reach. Others bemoan our children being raised by daycare providers and suggest there should be more family-oriented policies to help mothers stay at home, where their children can thrive in a home environment.
This controversy will always be with us. Ask any single parent what he or she thinks about daycare, and you will most likely hear a groan of dissatisfaction coupled with a look of bewilderment. Most often there aren't any discussions with them about whether or not daycare is good or bad for their children. All they know is that, to survive, they must rely on someone else to help care for their young children while they earn a living
In light of this fact, the following are a few suggestions about choosing daycare and how to ensure your child is getting the most from a childcare situation.
Community resource and referral agencies: These agencies will be able to provide you with a multitude of free information regarding licensed individuals and facilities, as well as recommend a situation that works best for your needs. Call 1-800-424-2246 to find the one serving your area.
Once you have names of possible daycare candidates, call each of them to get some basic information: How long have they been in business? How many children do they care for daily? What are the hours of operation? Are the providers trained in child development and first aid? What happens when a child gets sick or hurt? What is their holiday schedule? How much do they charge?
Obviously, the next step is to visit the facility. Don't ever make a decision based on a phone interview. Don't just visit for a few minutes, either. Stay an hour or two. When you visit, take notes on general cleanliness, available play space for each child, smells (is there an aroma of dirty diapers in the air?) and sounds (are there unattended children crying?), and the activities children are engaged in. Ask detailed questions: Do providers wash their hands after each diaper change? What types of food are served daily? How are disputes resolved between children? What happens when a child does not obey a caregiver?
Next, analyze the schedule of activities. Look for periods of active play, quiet play, snacks and meals, and educational activities. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), there should be no more than eight babies in a group, with one adult assigned for every four infants. They also recommend no more than twelve kids per group for toddlers (twelve to thirty months old), with one adult assigned to every four younger toddlers and one adult to every six older toddlers.
Ask the center director or home provider for references and check them out. If staff members seem apprehensive about it or say they don't have any, beware. Most good providers will have a long list of people who are willing to serve as references.
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For school-age children, look for after-school care that is educational and interesting. This is the age when your children will need more than a babysitter. Many after-school programs, which are often held in elementary school gymnasiums, are affordable, but be cautious. Look for a reliable and qualified staff, a variety of activities and materials, a pleasant and safe environment, facilities for active play as well as for doing homework quietly, and good adult supervision with clear-cut safety policies intact.
Before deciding to leave your school-age child to fend for him- or herself after school or on weekends, think long and hard about how that will impact his growth and what risks are involved. Structured and planned activities are important for youths to keep them involved in mind-expanding rather than self-destructive activities. Don't kid yourself: a kid with too little to do will find something to do. Take steps to control what that something might be by investing the time and money to research the possibilities. Boys and girls clubs are in many communities. Safe-key programs and after-school activities abound.
Make childcare choices a priority: Investigate possibilities thoroughly. Call each prospect and ask basic questions. Visit facilities or homes to get a true feel for daily activities. Don't leave a school-age child with no after-school plan.
"Solo Parenting: Raising Strong & Happy Families"
by Diane Chambers.
About The Author
Diane Chambers, MA, a former single parent, writes a monthly column entitled "Successful Single Parenting". She is currently a divorce mediator in Atlanta, Georgia where she lives with her husband and two teenagers. She can be reached by email at [email protected] This article was excerpted with permission from Sole Parenting, copyright 1997, published by Fairview Press. http://www.FairviewPress.org