Nannies, family child care, a child-care center … Find out what it all means and what might be right for your child.
Choosing a caregiver for your child may be one of the toughest decisions you’ll ever make as a parent.
Between day-care centers, family child-care providers and in-home care, sifting through the options can seem overwhelming. However, given the importance of choosing the right care for your family, it’s crucial that you consider your options carefully.
“I went through an extensive process to find child care for my children, and finally settled on a nanny,” says working mom Iga Hallberg. “The same woman has been taking care of my 3-and-a-half-year-old for almost three years. She also now takes care of our 10-month-old.”
An in-home caregiver – such as a nanny or au pair – is one option and offers many advantages for your child. For one, your child is cared for in the safety and familiarity of your home. In-home care also available is also to you even when your child is sick, which is not always possible with other child-care options.
One disadvantage is that you are dependent on the caregiver’s reliability. If she gets sick, has a family crisis or finds a better job, you may be left in the lurch. However, given the convenience, flexibility and individualized attention that in-home care can offer, you may find this to be a good option for your family. According to Suzanne Rainwater at the nanny placement agency Family Care Connection in Brentwood, you can expect to pay between $450 and $1,000 per week plus the employer’s share of Social Security taxes and state unemployment taxes for a professional nanny in a 40 – 45 hour per week position.
Because finding the ideal caregiver can take time, allow at least a month to find a nanny. “We successfully place nannies in as short a time as a week or two, but four to six weeks is more typical,” says Rainwater. “It’s a little like dating: there needs to be a good chemistry between the nanny and the family.” Check with your pediatrician, local hospital, au pair or nanny organizations and other parents for referrals. Be sure to interview each candidate, check references and, above all, don’t settle! If you don’t feel comfortable with the candidates you have met, keep looking to ensure you feel confident in the person who will care for your child.
Family Child Care
A family child-care provider, who offers child care in her home, is another option. If you want your child to be cared for in a home-like environment with a small adult-to-child ratio, this may be the right child care choice for you. Social interaction with other children, a consistent caregiver and flexible scheduling are other benefits.
However, family child-care providers are often untrained and may have child-rearing philosophies that differ from your own, which can lengthen your search for the right family care situation if these issues are important to you. Family child care can run $105 – $110 per week for infants and toddlers and $90 – $100 for ages 2 – 5 according to Judy Stephenson, program coordinator with the state of Tennessee’s Child and Adult Care Licensing.
Referrals from friends and neighbors are best bets for locating family child care in your community. Be sure to inquire about caregiver training, the age range of children cared for, references, parent involvement, structured programs and mealtimes to help identify the right caregiver for your child.
A third option to consider is a child-care center, such as day care, in which your child will be cared for with other children in the same age group. Many centers have structured programs designed to meet your child’s developmental needs, as well as opportunities for play and learning with other children. Because day-care centers are not dependent on any one person, it’s not a crisis if a teacher is sick or leaves the center.
However, not all child-care center programs are equally good, and the best programs may have waiting lists for admission. “Waiting lists are very common, and generally they are about a year out for the top (three-star) centers,” says Candyee Goode, president of the Nashville Area Association for the Education of Young Children (NAAEYC). Given that there are more children per caregiver, your child may also receive less personalized attention, and many centers will not take your child when he is sick.
According to Stephenson, costs range between $125 – $140 per week for infants and toddlers and $105 – $115 for ages 2 – 5. Friends, neighbors and your pediatrician can provide good recommendations. Another helpful resource is the the Department of Human Services’ website at state.tn.us/humanserv/childcare.htm, where parents can search for area child care, learn about quality, training opportunities and assistance programs and find links to the 3-Star Rating Program.
When evaluating day-care centers, look for state licensing, a trained and experienced staff, a good teacher-to-child ratio, a loving and stimulating atmosphere and separation of age groups. “Go by gut feelings – that feeling you get when you walk in the door,” Goode advises. “See if workers are in tune with the children – on the floor playing and not just babysitting.” She also recommends asking to see the center’s state-issued report card, which should be posted.
When selecting any child-care provider, make sure your child’s nutritional needs will be met. “Children may spend eight to 10 hours at a child-care center,” says Jamie Pope, M.S., R.D. and L.D.N. at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing. “At least half of their day’s food and beverage intake will come from meals and snacks served there. Many day-care centers plan their menus in accordance with the Food Guide Pyramid, but are not necessarily mandated to do so unless they receive federal funding.
It’s a good idea for parents to ask for a copy of menus that include not only meals, but what snacks will be served.” However, she warns, parents should not expect child-care centers to meet ALL their child’s nutritional needs, and should be sure to offer nutritious, balanced meals and snacks at home.
Footing the Bill
While child-care expenses can seem daunting, you may be able to use pretax dollars if your employer offers a dependent care flexible spending account (FSA). Your contributions are made through regular payroll deductions, and as you incur dependent care expenses throughout the year, you turn in receipts for reimbursement through your plan. A household may contribute up to $5,000 pretax with some limits. For more on FSAs, ask your employer or visit the Internal Revenue Service’s website at irs.gov.
One final word of advice when selecting child care. “Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your job is finished the moment you find a suitable child-care provider. In many ways, it’s just the beginning,” says Ann Douglas, author of The Mother of All Baby Books. “You’ll need to monitor your child’s care arrangement on an ongoing basis to ensure that it’s continuing to meet his needs.” The more comfortable you are with your child-care arrangements, the more peace of mind you’ll enjoy as a working parent.
Erin Gifford is a freelance writer and a new mom. She frequently writes about children’s health, education and parenting issues.
HOW ARE CHILD-CARE CENTERS RATED?
Although the specific requirements are complex, here is a basic overview of how the state determines a home or center’s Stars rating. For a more information, visit the Department of Human Services (DHS) at state.tn.us/humanserv.
No Stars: Two to eight hours annual in-service training for workers; posted schedule of developmentally appropriate activities
One Star: 30 hours of training for a first-year worker through an approved DHS agency, followed by 10 hours annually; development of an improvement plan based on the agency’s Environmental Rating Scale summary report; new-family orientation meetings
Two Stars: 30 hours of training for a first-year worker through an approved DHS agency, followed by 15 hours annually; development of an improvement plan based on the agency’s Environmental Rating Scale summary report; new-family orientation meetings and monthly written communication with parents
Three Stars: Workers have 20 hours of annual training through an approved DHS agency, a Child Development Associate’s degree or an Associate and Applied Science Degree with two years experience; development of an improvement plan based on the agency’s Environmental Rating Scale summary report; new-family orientation meetings, monthly written communication with parents, annual family meetings