Recently I have had to search for a new day care center because the one I’ve had my toddler in is set to close the beginning of July. Since I didn’t really have to search when I placed him there, I was trying to figure out the best way to approach finding a new center.
Oklahoma Child Care Resource & Referral Association, Inc. and Oklahoma Department of Human Services published pamphlets full of helpful tips on choosing the best possible care for your child. Here are a few of their guidelines:
1. Start early. As soon as you think you may need child care, start the process. Finding a suitable center takes time and some have lengthy waiting lists, especially for infants and young toddlers.
2. Make a call (and go online). The Oklahoma referral service is free and can provide facts and lists of options in your area. The number is 1-888-962-2772 or you can go online: www.oklahomachildcare.org.
Also, you can go to okdhs.org/childcarefind to search for different day cares based on your personal preferences (how may stars the center is accredited with, ages accepted, type of facility, etc.)
You can also call DHS to request reports on the day cares of your choice. They will detail complaints and violations. For Oklahoma County, the number is 767-2650.
3. Visit & ask questions. Look at important factors in deciding on a facility such as:
-Adult to child ratio. The fewer children to caregiver, the better.
-Group size. Smaller groups are safer and more calm.
-Caregiver qualifications. Find out about their training and education. Degrees/special training for taking care of children are key. Look at the turnover – have the caregivers been there a long time? If they are all fairly new, that may be a red flag. Also be sure someone is CPR certified.
-Star ratings. For any center, be sure they are licensed. DHS gives stars to programs for meeting certain criteria. The more stars, the more the center has done above basic licensing requirements.
-Policies. They should give you a detailed description of all their policies, such as meals, behavior, fees, vacations, field trips, medicine, etc.
Drop in unexpectedly to look around the center. Look at the food menus, methods of discipline, activities, playground areas and anywhere else your child will be. See how caregivers interact with the children. See if it’s the environment you would feel most comfortable leaving your child in.
4. Stay involved. Be a part of planning activities for the children (if there are opportunities for this) and attend any parent meetings. Always address concerns with the caregiver and director. That’s what they are there for.
5. Go with your gut instinct. The safety and well-being of your child comes first. I had visited 3-star day cares, day cares closest to my home and centers with good reputations. In the end, I had to go with my instinct. The center I chose is one in which I don’t think I would ever have doubts leaving my son.
If you’d like further information, or a detailed checklist on what to expect from a day care center and specific questions you should ask, call DHS and request a copy of the handbook “The Parents’ Guide to Selecting Quality Child Care.”