By Christen Balistreri, Parent and Employer Services Specialist
The process of finding child care for your little one can be very overwhelming and scary. Not only are you working away from your children all day, but you need to find a safe, nurturing and cost-effective caregiver for your child while you work. How long will the search take, and where do you begin?
Before you start your search, it’s important to realize that you are the number one caregiver in your child’s life, and it will be impossible to find someone who does what you do. However, it’s possible to find caring, educated child care professionals that are skilled at keeping your child safe, engaged, and comforted while you’re away at work.
How Long is the Process?
Finding child care is a process of many steps, not just one. It can take anywhere from one week to a few months to find child care depending on the type of care you’re looking for, how old your child is, and what the current market is like. In general, it takes longer to find child care for infants and toddlers. No matter what type of care you’re looking for, infants and toddlers need more adults to care for them, thus creating fewer child care slots for infants and toddlers in each program. If you’re expecting a baby, be sure to plan well before the
child is born so you can secure your spot in the program of your choice.
What is the First Step?
There are many ways to find child care, but not all ways are equal. The best way to find high-quality, licensed and regulated child care is to call your local Child Care Resource and Referral Agency. All counties or regions have one. If you’re unsure of what yours is, visit the national site of Child Care Aware of America at http://childcareaware.org/. In Erie County, the local CCR&R is Child Care Resource Network.
After you’ve contacted your local CCR&R, they’ll ask you a few questions that you need to be prepared to answer. Before reaching out, take a moment to think about what information you’ll provide to them. They’ll most likely ask you:
• What type of child care you’d like to look for (centers, home-based programs, summer camps, etc.);
• The ages of your child(ren);
• The days and times you need child care;
• Where you’d like the child care (near home, near work, etc.);
• If you have any special requests or circumstances (provider must be able to administer medication, your child has special needs, etc.);
• If you need transportation; or
• If you need help paying for child care (daycare subsidy).
The answers to these questions will be used to generate a list of referrals to various child care programs.
What Do I Do with the List?
Now that you have the names of a number of child care programs, it’s time to check them out. Anyone may visit the Office of Child and Family Services website at http://ocfs.ny.gov/ to look up a child care program. A quick search will show detailed information about each program, including their violation history. If a program has had a violation, the website will list what it was, when it was, and if it was corrected or not. This information can be helpful in making your decision.
Once you’ve decided on a program (or multiple programs) that you’d like to visit, call the program and make an appointment to come out and take a tour. Talk with the providers and ask questions. No matter the type of child care setting, all providers should be able to answer questions on care routines, interactions with parents, health and safety, and learning environments. A sample list of questions you can use to ask prospective child care providers can be found on our website at www.wnychildren.org. Look at the care environment. Does it feel clean, safe, and welcoming? Is the program inviting and friendly? Parents should use their best judgment and instincts when visiting prospective child care programs.
If you’ve found a program you like and would like to enroll your child(ren) in, complete all necessary paperwork and return it to the program. Programs will not let you send your child for care until all paperwork has been completed and submitted. The most important thing to remember is you need to feel comfortable and trust the providers you leave your child with while you are at work.
If you need more guidance and or resources, contact Child Care Resource Network. We can guide you through the process of finding a child care program that fits you and your child’s needs.