Picking a good childcare is such an important decision, but how do you choose the right one. Derek Lewis, the executive director of Greenville County First Steps shares from his experience what steps families should take in the search for the perfect, safe place for their kids.
Who would you trust to watch your child? This is one of the greatest questions for working families. When my wife and I found out we were going to be parents, we immediately began the process of finding the “right fit” for our unborn son. We were on waiting lists months before we needed care- and 3 years later, are STILL on some waiting lists.
Choosing quality childcare is confusing. There isn’t a guidebook, and there is no clear mandatory rating system like there is in the food service industry. And, a voluntary system means some providers submit to rigorous assessments while others float by on their reputation- even if that reputation is over-inflated.
We often are asked to describe what we look for in a quality childcare environment. Here is a brief list of best practices:
Take a tour: Nothing is more important than taking a tour of the facility. Visit when kids are in class. Walk around the classroom. Talk with the teachers. Ask if you can bring your child back and let him get a feel for it. Just like test-driving a car, you really need to get a good feeling for what a typical day is like.
Talk with the director/owner: Who is in charge? Do they strike you as someone who is calm, rational, and even keeled—or is this someone who panics when things get rough. Every day something unexpected happens in a center. Flexible directors handle stress well, and don’t pass that stress onto the staff or students.
Introduce your child to the teachers: Do they talk to your child? Do they seem comfortable with children and adults? Do they seem nurturing or controlling? Do they talk to you about what you should NOT do, or do they talk to you about what you child WILL do?
Ask some tough questions. Come prepared to ask some hard questions, and expect them to be answered:
- Does your center have any current DSS violations? What was the last violation your center had? There are very few centers with NO history of violations. It isn’t the violations that concern me; it’s how long it takes for them to resolve them.
- Does your center have staff certified in First Aid and CPR? Describe the last time an emergency medical service was called? Again, accidents happen, the bigger question is how did they deal with the accident?
- What professional development opportunities are provided for you and your staff? Typically, staff receive 15-20 hours/year of professional development. Who provides it, what does it look like?
- Does your center have an ABC rating? (This is the voluntary rating system that DSS uses to assess and improve centers) If so, what is your rating? And if not, why not?
- How long has your director/classroom teacher been in place? Turnover is high in this industry, that’s normal, but if everyone has turned over in the past 16 months then it could lead to instability for you or our child.
- Is it secure? Are there cameras? Can people walk in off the street, or is there a locked door? Some centers have 24/7 video surveillance that parents can monitor from home/work. This helps ensure the teachers know someone is watching them at all times.
Choosing to leave your child with a non-family member for care is a gut wrenching decision. You shouldn’t worry every day whether your child is safe, happy, well treated. Ask your friends: find people you trust, and ask them where their children stay.
For additional information, check out these resources for more information: Visit http://www.greenvillefirststeps.org/what-we-do?hash=tour#tour and take a virtual tour of child development centers, with popups that show you what you should look for. Or, visit http://www.sc-ccrr.org for more tips from the SC Child Care Resource and Referral network.