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[personal profile] sigerson
Today I cold-called about twenty local daycare centers (family and group) to ask about availability in January. While I found out some good information and have a few leads, talking with [ profile] sen_no_ongaku made me realize: We don't know what we're really looking for in a daycare.

We don't know what things are must-haves, what things are nice-to-have but not essential, what things are entirely irrelevant. Distance from home? Accessibility to T? Flexible hours or strict pickup policies? Number of caretakers? Kinds of toys and activities? Hourly rates? Lots of kids or few kids?

So I'm asking the parents out there who have used daycare: What have been the best things and worst things about the place(s) you've used? What is your sine qua non? What things have you really liked but could live without?

I don't expect consensus, of course, nor do I expect to be wanting the same things--but right now, we don't really know where to start. So, internets: any advice?

Date: 2010-07-28 12:47 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I do not have children, but have several friends who've recently gone through the "finding a daycare" thing - the biggest thing I can recall them mentioning as an Absolute Dealbreaker - the place has to allow unscheduled drop-ins. If they aren't okay with parents popping by, that is a definite Red Flag that something fishy could be going on, or that they aren't as good as they appear at the interview.

My other recollections - they really all looked for something that fit with their lives, in terms of distance and transit-accessibility and schedule. If some days you're going to be able to pick Twonky up at 2 but others not until 5, probably you want a place that will allow that - but if you can never get there until 6, it isn't so important. I remember caregiver-to-child ratio being more important than number of caregivers or children, if that makes sense - 3 or 4 to 1, maybe? I think different states have laws about required ratios in daycare, so maybe check into that.

I hope that's useful! And maybe in a couple years, Steve and I will be asking you for your Boston-daycare-advice...

Date: 2010-08-02 02:56 am (UTC)
ext_88259: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
Actually, this is the law in Massachusetts. To be a licensed facility, they MUST be ok with unscheduled drop-ins. So, hopefully, you can cross that off the list.

Date: 2010-07-28 01:12 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
No clue about daycare, but recently I did hear about a new way of taking care of children - nannysharing. Basically I think it amounts to a few families pooling money to hire a full time child caregiver. If it's affordable, it might offer great flexibility.

My personal experience from babysitting kids for the last five years is that 4 children to 1 caregiver is good, 3:1 is super nice, 5:1 will work but it is very stressful....

Date: 2010-07-28 03:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
We cared about someone who would let me come by and nurse. We also looked for people who were a good fit with our kids, when our kids were old enough to have personalities.

Date: 2010-07-28 05:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Gavin de Becker has a great book called Protecting the Gift, which is about keeping kids safe. There's a lot of info in there about choosing a daycare, including hard questions to ask, what to look for as far as answers to the questions, etc. Highly recommended.

For me, the key is how do I feel when I walk in the place? Is this somewhere I could see my child being happy, safe and well taken care of? Or is it a place that just feels off to me. I've felt both. The former, I signed up on the spot and they were great. The latter, we both walked out of there, turned to each other and said "No way." It just felt wrong.

In a center or in-home daycare, look for happy children, clean areas, written policies regarding how infants and toddlers are to be cared for. If you'll be breastfeeding, look for a place that will allow you to come in and breastfeed whenever you want. Any restrictions on when the parents can and can't come in is a dealbreaker. I don't care if it interferes with the nap schedule. No reason is good enough not to allow parents access to their children at any time. They should have a written policy that states that parents are welcome to drop by any time. (Realize, too, that this can make it difficult for caregivers and kids when kids are in their separation anxiety phase, as they will have to say goodbye to you more than once in a day. But the daycare should suck it up and deal, not ever say parents can't come.

If you have particular parenting philosophy, look for a place that accomodates and/or agrees with it. You don't need your caregivers undoing all the work you do in parenting your kids, whether they are more or less gentle in their approach.

Date: 2010-07-28 05:56 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I've gotta think that daycare for infants is different than daycare for toddlers; if you go searching for advice, make sure you note the distinction. I don't have any experience with the former (I had the luxury of being underemployed when M was a baby), but I would guess that you want the baby to have a lot of physical contact and interaction, not just when they cry. So definitely as few kids as you can afford. A nanny would be ideal, but is expensive of course-- although you could do a mix of daycare and nanny. Not that babies in daycares grow up to be axe murderers or anything, but a baby who feels secure is less likely to develop anxiety issues, and can be more difficult to handle. (This is completely unscientific guesswork on my part, mind you.)

You will be carrying a lot of stuff, including the baby, so by all means make the travel as easy as possible. A baby sling would make the T easier; if you prefer a stroller, check out the nearest T station and imagine hauling a stroller to the platform and onto the train.

Date: 2010-07-28 11:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think for infants it is really a question of your relationship with the caregiver. I preferred a small family daycare run by just one person who I had a really great relationship with. The critical thing is that you feel comfortable and that your child will be happy and safe. An interview will probably give you a good feel for the person and watching them interact with kids will tell you about their parenting style. I'd highly recommend my daycare provided btw, but as she is in Somerville, it is probably not an option...

Date: 2010-07-28 01:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think that the criteria for daycare selection comes down to three Cs:

Comfort, Cost and Convenience

Comfort is whether you will be as ok as you could be leaving your beloved son there and walking away. Comfort is very unique to each parent. There are basic requirements: must be a safe place, needs must be met, etc. But some people feel much more comfortable with structured environments where they can depend on the rules (center care) to keep their child safe. Some people feel much more comfortable with a grandparent or aunt-type caretaker. You might like your child's environment to be spotlessly clean, or you may actually be reassured by the kinds of messes that show that children have fun here. I also want to highlight the difference between infant and child care. A place that might be amazing for an infant, like the daycare Grey was at for years, might start getting "eh" for a preschooler who should be having some more structure in his days. On the other hand, an place that seems "institutional" for your wee babe may be perfect for your toddler. It's worth trying to figure out if you think this care scenario is for now or for good.

Cost. Cost is totally a factor. Even with great intentions there are some child care solutions you'd like to afford that you cannot afford. Cost was hardly the only consideration, but it will rule some providers out who would be great.

Convenience. I know you guys are wondering how important this is. I've been doing daycare pickups and dropoffs daily for nearly five years. IT'S IMPORTANT! I know that you'll think about whether you can nurse during the day and consider having the care near where the boob-provider works. That was how we made our choice. What this meant is that for 4 months I nursed during the day, and for the next four years it was impossible for me ever to take a sick day or work from home. I MUCH prefer having a daycare that is equally accessible to my husband and I. And also... it's hard enough. Adding 30 minutes or an hour of "work" to your day every single day of your working life for the next nearly 6 years to retrieve your child is tough. And if you get the "your child is burning up with a fever come get him ASAP" call, or something bad happens somewhere and you NEED to get to your kid for whatever reason (For example, on 9/11 I would have moved heaven and earth to get my child, even though it wouldn't have been necessary, just to be together.) it will matter that it takes 25 minutes instead of 5 minutes to get there.

I will also posit that I'm a little tired of the whole "pick up/drop off" thing, so I might be weighing convenience more highly than other people would.

Finally, yes. This is as hard as you think it is, finding child care. I thought it was significantly harder than, say, getting a new job. The first time around I called about 30 people before finding one I liked. The second time I couldn't believe that there weren't more options available to me. I wish you the very best of luck.

Have you used this resource? I used it heavily both times, and it was really critical:

Date: 2010-07-28 01:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Actually this one might be more your neighborhood:

Date: 2010-07-28 09:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I started to respond, but it was getting extremely lengthy, so I will email you. :) Though I am not a parent, I have a number of thoughts based on having worked in the field and having extensive training in child development.

Date: 2010-07-29 04:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Do you mind if Sigerson forwards this to me? We aren't looking just yet, but will be eventually, and it's good to be getting advice now.

Date: 2010-07-29 12:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I don't mind at all!

Date: 2010-07-31 03:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you! That's very handy.

Date: 2010-07-29 12:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Uh...what they said.
We did well (eventually) with home daycare (a professional mom/caretaker + her kid(s) + other people's kids, at her home), but I have no idea whether that's practical or legal in your area.
We also had the advantage that G. was on maternity leave, semi-unemployed, or living with her parents for the first seven months of Peter's life.
We found pumping milk and then leaving frozen bottles with Peter's various daycare providers worked fine (And you may want/need to pump anyway, for times when you're out of town and Twonky isn't).
Sorry this isn't more organized

Date: 2010-07-29 01:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I got a list of open providers through the EAP provider at my job. Sen_no_Ongaku may have something (or you might) and I highly recommend going through them. They don't do the research for you, but they will look at all the providers they have listed in an area and tell you if they are accepting children/infants/toddlers at a particular time. That really helped us narrow our choices down.

Convenience should have been more important to us than it ended up being. We had a place which was on the way to T's job, but when the kids got sick, getting back to them was a pain in the butt. Plus, I really couldn't get out there without a huge rigamarole on public transit. Definitely consider that. You *will* be picking them up unexpectedly, even if they are usually very healthy.

I second the parent drop-in times. If they don't have them, I would be *very* suspicious. MA has laws about how many kids to how many caregivers, which varies by age. But if the kids don't look happy when you come by, it's not the right place for you. Go with your gut, but definitely give a place a chance before you walk out. Also, they should allow you to drop by anytime (possibly excepting nap times) to see what the place is like. Most places will also allow you to bring the munchkin with you for a bit to see how they react as well.

(Caveat, we didn't look for permanent day care, until the kids were 3 and 4. I took them to the emergency day care at work a few times, and they were always awesome.)

Date: 2010-07-29 02:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
We use an in-home daycare.

In MA, home daycares are required by law to be licensed. The license is required to be posted somewhere visible. Besides the legality issue, the licensing means that there are periodic inspections.

Also, I would ask if the DC is on the federal lunch program. I've found that the lunch program does unannounced inspections about once per month, and they require menus to be submitted weekly. While food isn't the biggest issue for a little baby, I like the extra level of monitoring.

If the daycare accepts low-income children where the parents get financial assistance for tuition, it will get additional inspections. The first daycare we used didn't accept vouchers, and I later found that the woman cheated on her taxes among other things.

Why I prefer an in-home DC vs. a center: 1) No turnover in the care provider. I think it is better for K (and now E) to be able to bond with their caregiver. 2) I like mixed-age grouping. I think it is good for little kids to have older children to imitate. Centers tend to be strictly same-age groups. 3) It seems closer to an "at-home" situation to me.

Things that can be difficult: 1) Hours are not very flexible (as in open/close times). 2) If provider is sick, the DC may close.

Also, it is a normal practice for home daycares to expect some paid holidays. Some will also want a paid vacation (mine does not). I would expect this, but avoid a DC where the time off is excessive. My provider takes the major holidays (Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, etc.) and one week of vacation.

As far as cost, we are pretty far out of the city. Our daycare is $165/week. One of the local centers a friend used is $200/week. When we lived in Arlington, K went to a place in Cambridge that was $350/week or $7/hour. I couldn't afford any of the centers there as most charged more than I was making at the time. I think the Bright Horizons I priced was around $2200/month or something equally scary. Nannies are going to be $15/hour and up.

Date: 2010-08-01 01:38 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oi, a complicated topic perhaps better reserved for a phone call? our dear friend ltlbird sent me a fabulous email I am searching for that really, really helped us when we first started seeking care. can we talk tomorrow (Sunday)?

Date: 2010-08-02 03:04 am (UTC)
ext_88259: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
We have had Katie in two very different family daycares, and transitioned between them because, though the first was one of the only ones in the area to offer what we wanted for infant care (part-time schedule, larger environment without being too big, so a number of caregivers around), as she started getting older (about 15 months?) we just didn't have confidence in the owner's ability to run her business (hire staff, pay her bills, get stuff done). That meant we didn't have confidence that she would be safe and appropriately stimulated. Our current place is awesome!

Flexibile schedule is awesome, adding days or hours when needed, but not being at full-time if you don't need to be. Staff ratio is very important. Your first impressions as you walk in, if negative, trumps a lot of other positives on paper.

Happy to talk at your convenience whenever you'd like.


sigerson: (Default)

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