The child care search, and how to take the scramble out of finding quality care

Are you suddenly on a child care search? Did your childcare arrangements fall through? Did you have a sudden job offer that requires a near immediate start date? Perhaps it’s your first time requiring childcare and you simply had no idea how long the process could be?

Have you called all the best centers/providers only to be told there’s a long, long waiting list? Have you been on the waiting list and not received any sort of update? Do you not even know where to begin your child care search?

This can be a very overwhelming time of year for parents. Whether you require infant, preschool-age, or after school care. Whether you’re looking for full-time, part-time or flexible care. Whether you have narrowed it down to a specific type of arrangement (i.e. licensed group care, or private home-based care). And especially if you don’t even know where to begin.

The first step to find child care is determining what type of care is best for your family (licensed grouplicensed dayhome, home-based caregivers, in-home/”nanny” care, family caregivers, etc.)

If you are anything like me, this may need to be re-assessed based on availability of quality care, but it’s still important to know what your preferences are before beginning the child care search. You can find tips to get started: here . Once you’ve narrowed it down to type and preferred location, it’s time to start making phone calls. Keep a checklist of questions by the phone and when your questions are answered to your satisfaction, request a tour/meeting – even if they have (or you are already on) a waiting list.

During busy transition times (the fall is especially so) childcare centres/providers don’t always have/make time to refer to their wait lists. If a spot opens up unexpectedly (a child is moving, or a parent loses a job) sometimes it is possible to jump the line if you are in the right place at the right time. If you’ve already identified your first choice childcare provider, keep checking in with them to ensure that you are remembered.

I suggest during your child care search making initial visits without your children whenever possible. If you like the place enough, bring your child on a subsequent visit before committing to anything. You’ll know immediately if it’s a poor fit for your child based on their reactions (keeping in mind what is a “normal” reaction to a new situation for your child).

During your initial tour ask if you can drop-by unannounced for a second visit and if there are any particular times of day that are discouraged. If they insist on an appointment, find out why. Unless you are satisfied with the answer, this in itself may be a red flag. That being said it is not uncommon for visits during sleep times to be discouraged. It is also common to hear that the transition leading up to lunch and naptime is not an optimal time for visiting. These times of day tend to be more challenging for both staff and children in group environments.

Unannounced visits during your child care search can give you an opportunity to see what the facility is like during an average day. You’ll also find that during repeat visits to the centre you’ll be more likely to take note of little details that are important to you. Generally speaking if your first reaction to a centre is a negative feeling, you can almost certainly rule that option out. Some places will feel great the first time in, then subtle details may begin to stand out that identify items that are important to you.

It can sometimes feel like your choices are almost non-existent – quality childcare is in short supply everywhere, but don’t give up hope – you can find the right arrangement with a little diligence and patience. If you truly have no time left, and aren’t entirely satisfied with your choice, keep searching – remain aware of centre policies around withdrawals and move your child if you are confident you’ve found a better arrangement for your family. Above all, listen to your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

Trish McCourt is a parent of two school-age children, consumer of childcare, and former child care centre director and early childhood educator.

Making the right child care choices for you and your family
Family child care checklist

About Trish

family legacy curator, social justice advocate, blogger, amateur photographer, reader, cyclist, runner & swimmer, mom of two

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