That tiny bundle you’ve eagerly awaited has finally arrived. And now, you have to make an enormous decision: who will take care of him or her when you’re away?
Whether you’re the parent of a newborn or a toddler, selecting childcare is one of the more significant choices you make as a new parent. And, it’s a decision that many parents must make when just out of the gates of parenthood. While still learning how to care for your needy little one yourself, you often have to pick a stranger who will care for him for much of his waking hours and throughout his crucial early years.
Fortunately, there are many quality childcare providers in Silicon Valley, and such a variety that you’re sure to find one that’s right for you. They range from home-based care for infants to large centers where your child can continue into his elementary school years. To help in your search, we asked three respected childcare directors what to look for, and what to watch out for, in a provider.
Our experts suggest you start by asking yourself the basics: Do you want to find someone close to home or close to work? Do you first want to look at centers or in-home care?
Ask friends for recommendations and look at ads in Bay Area Parent. You can also search your zip code on the state’s Community Care Licensing Department website (ccld.ca.gov) for specific types of licensed providers. Then, check out the childcare center’s website and/or call and interview the director by phone before setting up a tour.
What to Research Before the Tour
The first question to ask is: Are they licensed? By law, a childcare provider, even one who works at home, must be licensed if he or she cares for kids from more than one family who are not his or her own relatives, according to the Community Care office of San Jose, which handles licensing for Santa Clara County.
When you go to a licensed facility, you’re assured that the provider has met stringent state health and safety requirements, says Lisa Raineri, childcare director of YWCA Silicon Valley, which has four San Jose centers. Licensed facilities must keep on file all of their employees’ Department of Justice fingerprint clearances, health screening reports and tuberculosis tests. They have to maintain required staff ratios – one adult to four babies, for instance. Also, they have to welcome unannounced parent visits and must prepare disaster plans, a daily schedule and meal menus – and post them for parent review.
“There are many unlicensed programs in this area, so parents should be very cautious,” Raineri says.
In your early research, find out how many children and what ages the provider cares for and ask what they charge. Local directors say $4 to $9 per hour for full-time care is typical. Babies are more costly than older kids due to increased staff needs; part-time kids also pay more per hour. If the school is beyond your budget, consider touring it anyway - just to compare it to schools you can afford.
Also, make sure you agree with the facility’s mission, says Danielle Ewing, director of Heads Up! Child Development Center in San Jose. Center websites often can fill you in on whether their aim is to raise bright, happy kids – or something more specific, such as to teach a certain religious or philosophical outlook. Some centers, such as Heads Up, offer Montessori and language programs for older children that may appeal to you as your child grows. (For explanations of different types of programs, see Preschool Primer on page 24).
What to Ask in Person
This is your chance to get to know the person who’s at the helm of the facility. Be sure to ask about the director’s work experience and that of the staff.
Daycare center directors usually have taken many childcare courses and have worked in the field for years, says Haidee Lim, owner of Baby World in Los Altos. Some staff members should also have completed early childhood classes. It’s also a good sign if most of the staff has worked there at least a few years.
“If two or more teachers have left within a short period of time, that indicates there is an issue between the staff … and more change is likely,” Ewing says. “It is very hard for parents and children to bond and develop trust (with teachers) in an unstable situation.”
What to Look for on the Tour
Observe the overall environment, and take note of your first impressions. “When you enter the center, is it warm and welcoming?” asks Raineri.
Safety and cleanliness should also be high on your checklist.
“Are children being watched at all times, even when they’re sleeping? Are the doors locked? Does the staff ask to see an ID when a child is picked up? Is the play equipment safe?” Raineri says. Every licensed center must have an outdoor play area.
“Does it smell clean?” asks Ewing. “Are the tabletops, countertops and shelves clean and relatively orderly?”
Look closely at the room your child would spend most of her day in, says Lim.
“For newborns and crawling and walking infants, toys always end up in their mouths, so it’s important the toys are washed regularly,” she says. “The surroundings should be stimulating to babies – a colorful environment, nursery songs playing in the background, toys within reach, staff talking to and holding them.”
Observe the children and the staff carefully, the experts say. “Are the children happy?” asks Ewing. “Are any children crying inconsolably…without caregiver intervention? Do the teachers look tired or stressed?”
Raineri suggests that you watch and see if staffers handle the children’s behavior in a positive way. “Do the lesson plans allow for the children to be creative and explore the environment? Watch the kids. Are they engaged and having fun?”
Like What You See? Check Further
Now’s the time to research validated complaints and citations filed against your favorite sites. Make an appointment to visit the Community Care office to check files. However, don’t drop a favorite without first asking the center how they resolved the problem, Ewing says.
You can also ask the center to provide references, and query those parents about how the center handles both daily responsibilities and unique challenges that arise.
Before enrolling your child, find out about any hidden costs, such as materials fees, registration, holiday fees and sick childcare. Ask if the facility provides a live web camera, says Lim. That way, you can watch your child at any time and ease any concerns about his well-being.
Whether with a camera or your own eyes, don’t stop checking up on the facility. Be vigilant as long as your child is enrolled. You’ll know you’ve chosen well, says Lim, when “you can see the happiness or smile on your child’s face when you drop her off and pick her up.”
Angela Geiser is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent.
Nanny 411 How to hire a nanny you can trust
For some people, the perfect childcare provider is one who works right in the home. Parents who hire a nanny don’t have the stress of rushing youngsters into the car every workday. They can expect their offspring to receive one-on-one attention. However, the greater flexibility of a nanny comes with greater responsibility; parents must make sure they’re hiring someone they completely trust.
For advice on how to select a nanny, we turned to Daryl Camarillo, a nanny agency owner since 1990. Camarillo is president of the Association of Premier Nanny Agencies, a national alliance that promotes best practices in the household staffing industry. Her company, Stanford Park Nannies, serves families in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.
Q: What are some benefits of hiring a nanny?
A: Besides having someone give your child individual attention, families who employ a nanny have more flexibility. Nannies often assist with evening and weekend babysitting, as well as travel and overnights. The families also benefit from decreased exposure to germs. Nanny employers miss fewer work days, and all family members experience fewer illnesses. Also, nannies often assist with household duties, including children’s laundry, light housekeeping, errands and pet care.
Q: What are some resources for finding a nanny?
A: The three best resources outside of using an agency are:
• Word of mouth
• Parents’ club referrals
• Online matching sites.
Q: What are some tips for parents?
A: Aside from thorough interviewing and reference-checking, the three most important things a parent should do are:
• Conduct a working interview in the form of a one-to-five day trial before making an offer.
• Pay a reputable private investigative service (such as PFC Information Services) to conduct a comprehensive background check. This includes a Department of Motor Vehicle report, criminal check and Social Security verification.
• Write a detailed work agreement outlining the terms of employment, including job responsibilities, compensation, benefits and household rules.
Q: What should a parent in Silicon Valley expect to pay a caregiver?
A: For a part-time nanny, $17 to $22 an hour. For full-time, $3,000 to $4,500 per month.
We recommend considering a medical insurance contribution for full-time nannies, which ranges from $100 to $300 per month.
Q: What are some common mistakes parents make?
A: One mistake is assuming you share the same expectations and standards as the family that recommended a nanny to you. It is important to do your due diligence, no matter how you were introduced to a nanny candidate.
Another mistake is giving the nanny time off without pay when you take vacation. Even though she works in a home setting, a nanny should be given the same professional courtesy as one would expect in any career. And, a third is neglecting to withhold taxes from the nanny’s pay. This could leave the family vulnerable to liability or legal recourse.
For more information, see theapna.org.