Top 10 Tips for Finding the Right Child Care

In 12 years raising three kids, I've sent my children to four different day-care centers in three states and hired at least 25 babysitters. I used full-time day care when my children were infants, as well as a patchwork of relatives, friends and paid in-home care. Our primary babysitter moved from Minnesota to D.C. with us, staying for seven years total. Finding -- and keeping -- good child care is one of the hardest, most critical, least understood components to working parenthood. You simply cannot go to work, or do a good job once you get there, without it.

Here are my (and On Balance readers') top 10 tips for finding -- and maintaining -- high quality child care.

1. Spend the time to figure out what kind of care you need. The costs, advantages and disadvantages vary: day care, home-based center, live-in nanny, live-out nanny, nanny share, au pair, your mother, you. Take time to prioritize your wishes and your family's needs. Make a chart of costs and the pros and cons, to figure out which options are best for your family. Ask parents you respect for recommendations and visit several options. Finding good care is a process that's rarely accomplished within a few days or weeks. Accept that there is no "right" answer, and that your needs may change over time as your family grows and your work/kids juggling act evolves.

2. Trust your instincts. I once walked out of an acclaimed, accredited day-care center after five minutes, knowing from the looks on the children's faces that I couldn't leave my kids there. Don't overlook the obvious: Make sure the care facility is clean, well-organized, and safe, and look for signs that the staffers actually like children. Spend time there without your child(ren) to see how parents, employees and kids interact. When you've done your research, make your own decision. Don't rely too heavily on anyone else's opinion, experience or an agency's rating. Everybody has biases, and your situation is unique -- no other family will have the same combination of baby's temperament, your work situation, your partner's work situation, where you live, where you work, your expectations of child care, etc. At the end of each day you need to be comfortable that your choice is the right one for your family -- not the right one for someone else.

3. Trust your children's instincts. If your child doesn't bond with a caregiver, the arrangement won't work. Ask your child about their caregiver(s) -- as soon as they can talk! If your child likes a caregiver, weigh that heavily. I once hired a babysitter my son loved at first sight, even though I knew she wasn't terribly industrious or punctual. But she was sweet, responsible and loving, and since my son was only two years old, that mattered much more than whether she folded laundry while he napped or showed up 10 minutes late each morning.

4. Pay as much as you can. Child-care workers, whether they are day-care employees, private nannies, or the teen-aged babysitter next door, are rarely paid well. They deserve fair wages for providing such important care. Plus, your call will be the one they return first if you make a habit of paying and tipping generously.

5. In addition to financial respect, treat good caregivers with other kinds of respect -- and look for a center with low turnover, a clear sign of a respectful workplace. Pick up your kids or come home when you say you will. Thank caregivers often and with sincerity. Work out a generous vacation plan and sick day policy if you have private care. Pay on time. Treat them as a partner in raising your children. You will save yourself -- and your children -- the tumult of turnover. And you send a signal that caring for children is a job worthy of respect.

6. Convenience matters, especially in a place you will be going to and from twice a day. Find a place that is as close as possible to your house and both spouses' work places. When evaluating options, think about your child's temperament, schedule and habits, any plans you have for more children, and your workplace requirements. Don't assume that all places can adjust to your schedule. You have to be flexible to a certain degree, too; but you should find a place that is willing to work with you on the most critical issues, such as a need for early or late pick up, a sibling preference policy, or any slightly unusual needs, like allowing a favorite grandparent or aunt to visit. Some places are fine with flexibility, others thrive on a tight organization.

7. Have a back-up childcare plan. Stuff happens: Nannies quit, your child gets sick, centers close, day cares have teacher training days. Figure out in advance what you're going to do when your child-care arrangement implodes, for a day, a week, or longer-term basis. Keep a list of phone numbers and e-mail addresses at home and at work. A good backup plan will minimize trauma for your child and your balancing act.

8. Get to know all caregivers, parents and kids. You learn a lot about parenting from talking to them about what's going on at day care. Also, if you need backup care on days the center is closed or at night, or when your caregiver is ill or on vacation, other parents, nannies or employees make a good network to tap into.

9. Get organized. Take a few minutes each night to make sure your child's bag is packed, bottles are made, snacks are set, etc. There are few more disruptive annoyances than getting a call on your way to work after drop-off telling you that your child doesn't have formula, a change of clothes, or field trip permission slip that he needs that day.

10. Excise your guilt. If you feel badly about using child care, your child will internalize your guilt and possibly presume it's his or her fault. Studies show that quality care helps children bond with other caring adults and children in productive, healthy ways that strengthen a child's self-esteem and self-reliance. Teaching your child to trust others (and himself) is part of good parenting. Watch out for surprise guilt -- it's OK if your child is the last one in his room to get picked up sometimes; one-on-one time with the teacher can sometimes be a special treat. Remember to make drop off -- and pick up -- a joyous transition in your and your child's daily routine.

Next week: Send me your Tips for Not Losing Your Sanity The First Few Weeks of Motherhood so I can include them in next Monday's Top 10 Tips.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  May 5, 2008; 7:15 AM ET  | Category:  Top Ten Tips
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Comments

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Childcare? Is that when you children help you out in your old age?

Hey, it is working for us! (a little bit!)

Posted by: Fred | May 5, 2008 7:48 AM

Especially with younger children, don't forget to occasionally USE your back-up care if they are otherwise unfamiliar with your child(ren). Another good reason for date night!

Posted by: inBoston | May 5, 2008 8:34 AM

Babysitting - Is that when you leave your children with their father?

Posted by: Ima Mudder | May 5, 2008 8:39 AM

11. If your child is going to be alone with a child care provider in a private setting, make sure you hire a female.

Posted by: Prudence | May 5, 2008 8:46 AM

"Prudence" -- I assume you are being intentionally provocative by promulgating such a silly stereotype. That's ridiculous, sexist, biased advice. You sell us all short by saying something so dumb!

Two of the most caring, wonderful people in my children's lives are their grandfather and stepgrandfather. Even when they were too young to talk the kids LOVED being with these two men. And uh, my husband is pretty good "in a private setting" with our kids as well.

Posted by: Leslie | May 5, 2008 9:00 AM

How about pay your employee enough that she can actually afford to go to work and leave the kids somewhere?

My husband's ex finally got an offer for a full time job. Unfortunately, the hourly rate is so low that she would have less money after she puts the children in day-care than she does now. I wish I could say that we were putting them somewhere fancy but we weren't. Someone she knew was only going to charge 20$ a day for one child. My step-son doesn't need child-care right now but come summer... that too would have to be paid for. So... I believe that she turned down the job because she couldn't afford it.

Posted by: Billie_R | May 5, 2008 9:03 AM

Off topic but worthwhile interruption:

Great Bethesda, Maryland event this Thursday at Barnes & Noble bookstore featuring teen health expert, Karen Lieberman Troccoli, who contributed to our recent Top Ten Tips for Talking to Kids About Sex:

http://blog.washingtonpost.com/onbalance/2008/03/top_10_tips_for_talking_to_kid_1.htmli

Troccoli will read from the newly released book, Like Whatever: An Insider's Guide to Raising Teens, at 7:30 on Thursday, May 8 at the Bethesda, MD Barnes & Noble. She and three other contributors will lead a discussion and sign books.

The event is free and open to the public.

Troccoli, who's also the mother of two kids ages 10 and 13, has worked in the field of teen pregnancy prevention for a dozen years, most recently at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, and has a Masters in Public Health degree from Johns Hopkins University.

Posted by: Leslie | May 5, 2008 9:09 AM

Or, you can skip child care altogether and take your kids clubbing like the idiot parents on the front page of the W.P.

Posted by: take them clubbing | May 5, 2008 9:11 AM

My number one child care tidbit: Get on the center wait lists at 4 weeks pregnant. You may get a spot that way! Unlikely, but possible!

take them clubbing- You are clearly outside the loop as far as what the cool parents are doing and/or you didn't read the article. This is a massive new industry I wish I had thought of. Right now my list of inventions consists of "bad kitty spray," which is just a squirt bottle with the words "bad kitty spray" written on the side, and "teething sticks," which are teething rings shaped like sticks with a handle to keep baby's hands from getting too cold while relieving the pain of molars coming in.

Posted by: atb | May 5, 2008 9:25 AM

Prudence" -- I assume you are being intentionally provocative by promulgating such a silly stereotype. That's ridiculous, sexist, biased advice. You sell us all short by saying something so dumb!

Two of the most caring, wonderful people in my children's lives are their grandfather and stepgrandfather. Even when they were too young to talk the kids LOVED being with these two men. And uh, my husband is pretty good "in a private setting" with our kids as well.

Posted by: Leslie | May 5, 2008 9:00 AM

__________________

Leslie,
I can't believe you just said that a poster's comment is "dumb." I don't think that Prudence was referring to dads, grandparents, etc. (although, you do have to exercise some caution here, too--and watch that anything inappropriate isn't happening). I think she meant that she wouldn't necessarily trust a male daycare provider, if that person was working one-on-one caring for her child (as opposed to in a daycare center setting--where there are more than one set of eyes on the situation). And Prudence is right. Male nannies/babysitters/etc. are statistically more likely to abuse a child than a female caregiver. That's not to say that ALL male care-givers are abusers, but statistically it is more likely. And yes, there are female caregivers that also abuse children (unfortunately). So, I guess caution is needed regardless. But Prudence comment wasn't "dumb" or necessarily provacative...it's CORRECT!

Posted by: Kattoo | May 5, 2008 9:26 AM

Leslie,
I just looked up the Department of Justice statistics on crimes against children by babysitters. Babysitters account for 4.2% of all offenses against children under age 6 (thank goodness--that's a small number). Among the reported offenses that babysitters commit, sex crimes outnumber
physical assaults nearly two to one. And males constitute the majority of sexoffending babysitters reported to the
police (77 %).

Posted by: Kattoo | May 5, 2008 9:34 AM

Kattoo - Prudence's comment was provocative. Don't leave your child with someone whom you don't trust would be a fairer statement. Evidently, neither you nor Prudence would trust a man to care for a child.

Incidentally, care to cite some of those statistics?

BB

Posted by: Fairlington Blade | May 5, 2008 9:36 AM

Kattoo and Prudence -- Despite the stats, it's still ridiculous and prejudicial and worse (but I'll hold back here) to advise that men cannot care for children.

Can't believe I'm wasting time on this.

Sure, let's just eliminate 50% of the human species from caring for kids!

Posted by: Leslie | May 5, 2008 9:39 AM

atb: "take them clubbing- You are clearly outside the loop as far as what the cool parents are doing and/or you didn't read the article."

I see no smiley face, but I truly hope you're being sarcastic.

Posted by: Wha? | May 5, 2008 9:44 AM

I would like to emphasize tip #2 -- Trust your instincts. We reviewed several child care centers for our children. My mind kept telling me to favor the new, fancy centers that had all the bells and whistles. But my heart said go with the one that "feels right." My heart won -- and boy was it right! What a wonderful, caring environment! And I learned so much from the caregivers, too. I would often pick their brains for solutions to little problems I was having. Who better to ask than someone who had cared for literally hundreds of babies?

Posted by: S1234P | May 5, 2008 9:50 AM

Of the male abusers, trusted male family members have the worst track record, but let's not let facts get in the way of prudent decision making, especially when it concerns our loved ones.

Posted by: Prudence | May 5, 2008 9:53 AM

"Be cautious about who you allow to babysit or spend time alone with your children. Get references. Try to bathe and dress your own children. Routinely quiz your children about what happens while you are gone. Ask questions like, "What did you do that was fun?" or "Was there anything that happened while I was gone that worried you or that I should know about?" Don't always tell your children to mind the babysitter. Avoid having young male babysitters."

Leslie,

This is from Oprah Winfrey's website--information on protecting your child from sex offenders. Read the last line "Avoid having young male babysitters."

I'm not saying NEVER have a male babysitters--but statistically it is more of a risk!

And quite frankly, I think your choices of words...and the fact that you're telling me I'm flat out wrong, with no substantiation and you "can't believe your wasting your time on this" is offensive!!!!! I'm not wrong, male babysitters are more likely to sexually abuse children...so an abundance of caution, prudence, whatever, is warranted. There have been a lot of articles written about this!

Hmmmm...now let's see if you delete this post because you can sling it out, but you can't take a well thought out post with a different opinion?????

Posted by: kattoo | May 5, 2008 9:53 AM

Kattoo - Prudence's comment was provocative. Don't leave your child with someone whom you don't trust would be a fairer statement. Evidently, neither you nor Prudence would trust a man to care for a child.

Incidentally, care to cite some of those statistics?

BB

Posted by: Fairlington Blade | May 5, 2008 9:36 AM

_________________

I did cite statistics...see my post above--and I truly don't think "prudence" was being provacative. I think her advice is TRUE!

Posted by: Anonymous | May 5, 2008 9:57 AM

Of the male abusers, trusted male family members have the worst track record, but let's not let facts get in the way of prudent decision making, especially when it concerns our loved ones.

Posted by: Prudence | May 5, 2008 9:53 AM

________________

This is true, too!

Posted by: Kattoo | May 5, 2008 9:58 AM

And by the way, I have had male babysitters for my son. BUT...not until he was in elementary school, was educated on what is appropriate or inappropriate behavior from a babysitter (or other adult), and can clearly articulate what happened while we were gone!

Posted by: Kattoo | May 5, 2008 10:01 AM

There is an enormous difference between promulgating a blanket stereotype and warning people of risks. Nuff said.

Hey, pay attention to the tipster who suggested getting on the daycare list ASAP -- like the moment you get official word from the doctor (some places require a real note!). Most centers, and all good ones, have a wait list that doesn't care at all when your maternity leave is up!

Also, I love the story about favoring the older-fashioned daycare over the bright shiny one. I felt the same way about our neighborhood public school. Shabby, no air conditioning, but with loving, committed, imaginative teachers who'd been there for over 20 years.

My snobby friends with kids in prestigious nursery schools (!!!) would say, "But my five year old knows who Van Gogh is" and I'd double over laughing. What kindergartener needs to know about Jackson Pollack? That stuff is to impress parents. Kids don't need that -- they need safe loving care. Period.

Posted by: Leslie | May 5, 2008 10:03 AM

Kattoo, I have to call your statistics into question. You're being very selective.

First of all, the report you cited was published in September, 2001. It's six and a half years old. (Yes, it's still the first thing that pops up on a google search, but...)

You cited the statistic:
"males constitute the majority of sexoffending babysitters reported to the
police (77 %)."

The FULL quote from that report (p. 2, lefthand column) is "Males constitute the majority of sexoffending
babysitters reported to the
police (77 percent); females make up
the majority of physical assaulters
(64 percent)."

So, don't leave your kid with a male or she'll be sexually assaulted. And don't leave your kid with a female or she'll be physically assaulted. Is that what you're saying? And if not, why not?

Let's not misuse statistics to try to prove points, shall we?

(For anyone who cares, the full report is at http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/189102.pdf)

Posted by: Anon for this one | May 5, 2008 10:05 AM

to: Wha? | May 5, 2008 9:44 AM Yes, I was kidding about the "cool" thing.

Posted by: atb | May 5, 2008 10:08 AM

To: Anon for this one...

Yes, those are the same statistics I cited...and that would be great if in the last 6 years the risks diminished significantly...unfortunately, they haven't. SO...and moral of the story is, use caution in whomever you hire. We've seen enough nanny-came clips on the evening news to know that female nannies can do their share of damage.

Posted by: Kattoo | May 5, 2008 10:10 AM

Kattoo, it would be great if this discussion was centered around your remark "use caution in whomever you hire". Unfortunately, it started with Prudence's posting:

"11. If your child is going to be alone with a child care provider in a private setting, make sure you hire a female."

As the statistics we both looked at indicate, hiring a male in such a situation makes it more likely your child will be sexually assaulted; hiring a female makes it more likely your child will be physically assaulted.

The bottom line is that Prudence's suggestion is not prudent at all; it's simply wrong. The advice should be "If your child is going to be alone with a child care provider in a private setting, make sure you hire someone you trust, make sure that trust is based on solid evidence (references, records checks, etc.) AND verify that trust."

(I can't believe I'm agreeing with Leslie on this one. But the facts would dictate that Prudence's advice is simply wrong.)

Posted by: Anon for this one | May 5, 2008 10:17 AM

TO: Anon for this one

First off, I used a daycare center when my son was young because I felt that there was safety in numbers--yes, I know abuse still happens in a center--but I personally felt safer with that than with a private nanny. Again...that's me personally--my opinion (as right or wrong as anyone else feels it is). But I wouldn't hire a male babysitter because I felt that physical abuse would be easier to spot--and it would be more likely that my son would cry/or somehow express fear if physical abuse happened. But sexual abuse is far more tricky to spot in a young child.

Posted by: Kattoo | May 5, 2008 10:23 AM

I had a couple of male baby-sitters when I was a kid and I'm female. They were neighborhood teens. I turned out all right and so did they -- they're both married with children.

I also baby-sat boys, in fact probably about half the kids I baby-sat were boys. And from some of their Facebook pages, they seemed to have turned out just fine, too.

Just thought I'd add my 2 cents.

Posted by: WDC 21113 | May 5, 2008 10:24 AM

I had a couple of male baby-sitters when I was a kid and I'm female. They were neighborhood teens. I turned out all right and so did they -- they're both married with children.

I also baby-sat boys, in fact probably about half the kids I baby-sat were boys. And from some of their Facebook pages, they seemed to have turned out just fine, too.

Just thought I'd add my 2 cents.

Posted by: WDC 21113 | May 5, 2008 10:24 AM

________________

Of course, 99.99% of all care situations are A-OKAY. It's the ones that make the evening news that leaves enough doubt to be cautious.

Posted by: Kattoo | May 5, 2008 10:27 AM

I follow the directions in number 7. DD has her school day care, I have backup care at work, and in a pinch she has her old day care where she went for 3 years. DD went to my back up care downtown on Friday because I had work and she needed to be out for kindergarten orientation. Her school day care did not open until 3 pm that day.

I am trying to piece together summer plans and when her camp closed an extra week I was able to quickly take care of that week.
I have more "sweetie" time than I expected and I plan to enjoy every minute of it.

Posted by: shdd | May 5, 2008 10:29 AM

"There is an enormous difference between promulgating a blanket stereotype and warning people of risks."

Leslie, Oprah made a "blanket stereotype" in warning people to not use young male babysitters. She obviously thought that was worthy of a blanket stereotype. And she herself was a victom of sexual abuse--I believe by a family member (if I remember correctly).

Posted by: Kattoo | May 5, 2008 10:29 AM

"look for a center with low turnover, a clear sign of a respectful workplace"

Very smart and makes the larger point that things change at a daycare center. Our 18 month old son goes to a place that's recently been changing directors at a very fast pace. We liked the first director very much and now we don't even know the latest person in charge. Points to a bigger problem there and as a result we are moving him to a better place.

Unfortunately, this is not a static thing.

Posted by: Bob | May 5, 2008 10:38 AM

Kattoo - We were evidently parallel posting as the stats hadn't appeared when I made my comment. I do consider the advice "don't hire a man" provocative. Be cautious about hiring a male babysitter does seem reasonable, based on the stats.

From the dueling posts, one would get 63% of abuse by men (0.77*2/3+0.36*1/3) and 37% by women. I have a feeling that the abuse rates would be much higher for male caretakers than for female. Here, I'm making the assumption that most sitters are female.

BB

Posted by: Fairlington Blade | May 5, 2008 10:38 AM

Hey, you all know I more often beat men over the head (hypothetically) than defend them when it comes to doing their fair share at home, and treating moms equally in the workplace, but I gotta weigh in repeatedly here.

I don't care what Oprah says. I don't care about Kattoo and Prudence's statistics. I have a lot of respect for all three of you, but to give blanket advice that children should not have male caregivers is HORRIBLE, SEXIST, GENDERIST, DESTRUCTIVE ADVICE.

Abusers come in all packages, and god knows, both genders. Teaching your children not to trust male caregivers will not prevent abuse. And it WILL hurt children more than it helps. Children need responsible, trustworthy men in their lives, day in and day out.

My daycare centers had male caregivers who were sweet, fun, friendly and responsible. I shudder to think that some parents would write off such fabulous care just because of the gender of the employees. And guess what: it's illegal in addition to being destructive and immoral.

What's far more important is to trust your instincts about your child's caregivers. And to teach your children about the possibility of abuse, physical, sexual, and mental, from a very early age.

I know we all want to prevent our children from being hurt or abused. And stats do show that most abusers are male, and most victims are female. But it's overly simplistic to think we can end child abuse by simply saying "no men need apply" when it comes to caring for children.

Posted by: Leslie | May 5, 2008 10:56 AM

I would say my best advice is "don't expect perfection". Mary Poppins is a fictional character. If you want her as your nanny, you'll need to write a story.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | May 5, 2008 11:02 AM

Leslie,
It's not "no men need apply." In a center, it's not a one-on-one situation...but in a home, it is. I would tread very, very cautiously about leaving a male caregiver with a young child, unsupervised. I wouldn't do it!!!!!! It's risky. Maybe a small risk, but not one I would take.

Posted by: Kattoo | May 5, 2008 11:04 AM

I agree with Leslie--the same concerns could be addressed with "be careful whom you choose to care for your kids, and pay attention to X red flags," because the dangers are there regardless of the gender of the caregiver. There is no reason to be all "BEWARE OF MEN, they will hunt your children down and molest them if given a chance!!!!" I personally don't believe in protecting my children from harm by teaching them to fear half the population based on specious assumptions.

Also, I couldn't give less of a crap what Oprah says.

Posted by: JS | May 5, 2008 11:05 AM

Oprah is extremely knowledgable. I care a lot about her advice. I think it's very, very sound! Plus, she speaks from personal experience. If you were abused as a child, you will be more cautious. That's natural!

Posted by: Kattoo | May 5, 2008 11:07 AM

Leslie,
Anyway, I've got a ton going on today...so I'll just agree to disagree...and be glad that you're not the one making decisions in our family.

Have an awesome day!!!!!

Posted by: Kattoo | May 5, 2008 11:08 AM

Kattoo--

There is no reason to think that physical abuse would be easier to spot than sexual abuse. Based on your own reasoning, we should never leave our children alone with men or women. Ever. Nice worldview to pass along to your children.

Your analysis smacks of truthiness.

Posted by: JS | May 5, 2008 11:08 AM

Well said, Leslie. Those making gender-specific comments are showing their own biases. What scares me is when their biases affect their instincts.

For me, it was all about continuity in childcare. The same people working there for years. The same people having each of my kids in turn. And they were happy with their jobs. That is so important. (And the best teacher we ever had at this child care was a man. He taught pre-K and was awesome).

Posted by: dotted | May 5, 2008 11:10 AM

Leslie said, "But it's overly simplistic to think we can end child abuse by simply saying "no men need apply" when it comes to caring for children."

Again, Leslie, you are twisting people's words. Prudence spefically referred to situations in which children were to be cared for in a private setting. Group child care is not a private setting, and you simply cannot compare the two.

I taught in, and directed, NAEYC accredited centers for nearly 20 years. I frequently looked to hire men, as I value the skills and disposition they bring to work with children. In my experience, most parents welcomed male care providers. Those with concerns usually felt better when I explained that it would be a rare situation for any child to be alone with any adult. I suppose any who still had concerns looked elsewhere. And, believe me, there are many subtle ways to discourage men from even applying, so there is never a legal question of discrimination, and there are many places that hire only women.

I personally would have no hesitation to in having a male caregiver for my children. I had a recent conversation with a coworker about this, and she became VERY concerned. I got the impression that she had a horror story about such a situation, but didn't elaborate, other than to restrict her concern to young (teen to young adult) males. I certainly advocate being careful about who watches your children. If you don't feel comfortable hiring a male to watch your child in a private setting, I would never tell you that you are being needlessly conservative. These are your children, after all. And I have never had the occasion to leave my children alone in the care of any male other than my dad (my children have no father), so it is hard for me to have a frame of reference from which to moralize.

Posted by: child care mom | May 5, 2008 11:19 AM

I would also point out that most child abuse is committed by white people. Now, remember, everyone: never, EVER let your child be alone with a white person.


Source: http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/05/child-maltreat/report.pdf

Posted by: JS | May 5, 2008 11:23 AM

Well don't tell all of this to the male au pairs I know (who are kind and loving to the kids they take care of - and mine too!).

Posted by: Anonymous | May 5, 2008 11:24 AM

A few links to amuse:

http://www.theonion.com/content/news/oprah_viewers_patiently_awaiting

http://www.theonion.com/content/news/oprah_launches_own_reality

Posted by: Our Dear Leader | May 5, 2008 11:27 AM

Kattoo -- Your parting sentiment, and sense of humor, go alooong way. It is just the essence of motherhood: you make your decisions, I make mine. We can agree, disagree, share advice, foam at the mouth, whatever. But I respect your instincts as a mom. Thank you for respecting mine. And thank god we live in this country, where we are (mostly) free to raise kids the way we want to. Yahoo!!!

Hey, I'm off to tape a segment of Michel Martin's NPR show, Tell Me More. I will be on with the Mocha Moms, talking about our moms. I love that show! More to come -

Posted by: Leslie | May 5, 2008 11:36 AM

Seems to me that the discussion today is illustrating the value of Leslie's Tip #2: Trust your instincts....Everybody has biases, and your situation is unique...At the end of each day you need to be comfortable that your choice is the right one for your family -- not the right one for someone else.

Those who don't feel comfortable leaving their child with a male are well within their rights and responsibilities to make that decision. But if there is anyone out there trying to make your own decision know that many of us HAVE left our children in the care of a man and the children were not abused or neglected.

Posted by: cm9887 | May 5, 2008 11:41 AM

I have an additional bit that falls into point #1 which is to know your child. My son is very sensitive to noise and so we eliminated a few daycare centres that were just very noisy, usually due to physical constraints (walls that echoed with lack of things to absorb the sound).

Also I have to recommend AGAIN "Protecting the Gift" which has great questions to ask caregivers and things to consider. (And he weighs in on the male caregiver debate as well.)

I had a nanny when it was part time but for full time care I felt that having a centre where people get breaks was important.

I went for a Montessori because I liked it and it had low turnover (if shabby surroundings) and also because I felt that the staff sort of had an additional interest to bring to the daily routine (in the educational focus) and that might mean more dedicated staff (doesn't necessarily mean that, but I figured it didn't hurt.)

Posted by: Shandra | May 5, 2008 11:41 AM

Anyone taking child care advise from Oprah, or her website, is really grasping at straws. Her book club recommendations are bad enough.

Having said that, I don't think people utilize local, community or state information on ratings, complaints and licensing of child care centers and in-home providers. Most women I know use the word of mouth references and need to do additional research. Relying on your neighbor's sister's cousin's opinion of a center or child care provider is risky.

Posted by: Get Real | May 5, 2008 12:31 PM

I realize I'm missing something here but why are some commenter calling out teenage and young adult male caregivers versus just plain adult male caregivers?

What makes that age range more likely to abuse than someone who is older?

I could see that a younger person has less coping skills and may be more likely to phsyically abuse a child - but that seems like it would apply to girls as well. So I'm asking honestly - no snark here - whats the deal with younger men? I've always heard the argument be males period.

Posted by: Missing Something | May 5, 2008 12:44 PM

"Anyone taking child care advise from Oprah, or her website, is really grasping at straws."

And taking advise from strangers on a blog is better ... how?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 5, 2008 12:51 PM

From the study cited above (pp. 4-5)

"In addition to gender of the offenders, one
of the most dramatic differences between
sex offenses and physical assaults reported
in NIBRS jurisdictions was the offender
age profile (figure 6). Nearly half (48 percent)
of the babysitter sex offenders were
themselves juveniles. On the other hand,
only 15 percent of the physically assaultive
babysitters were under age 18. This
age pattern--teens overrepresented in the
commission of sex offenses and adults in
the commission of physical offenses--
held true for both male and female offenders.
One possible explanation for this pattern
may be that adult babysitters are
more likely to be given responsibility for
young children for longer periods (e.g., a
whole day or several days a week) than
teenage babysitters, and this continuous
exposure creates the kind of stress and
control-related conflicts that tend to trigger
physical assaults on young children.
Sex offenses, by contrast, are often crimes
of opportunity that occur during the more
occasional exposures that children have
with teen babysitters."

Posted by: To: Missing something | May 5, 2008 1:06 PM

It was on this blog that I read a recommendation for a great book that pertains to today's topic: "Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane)". It's written by the guy whose consulting company advises the Secret Service, the Supreme Court, etc. This is not the kind of book that will make you crazy with fear -- it will teach you how to train your intuition and your children's so that everyone can respond appropriately (instead of, say, writing off an entire gender).

Posted by: WorkingMomX | May 5, 2008 1:12 PM

How about contributing some ideas on things that struck a cord for you when you looked for day care - what made you choose A over B? Was it the director, or the other kids, the surroundings, the attitude? What kind of questions did you ask? How much time did you spend at each center observing? Did you watch drop-off time to see how the kids reacted to seeing their teachers each day? Did you only consider centers in your school district, so you could continue with the same center for before & after school care as your children got older?

Just looking for some practical advise, which is what I thought I'd be getting when I started reading the comments.

Posted by: JB in VA | May 5, 2008 1:15 PM

JB in VA - practical advice, here we go. Ask them how much caregiver turnover a daycare center suffers? Watching drop-off time is a good idea because you get to see so much is such a short time. We used a day care center near our house, though some prefer near work. Our kids then went to school with the same kids from preschool. Worked for us.

Posted by: dotted | May 5, 2008 1:24 PM

""Males constitute the majority of sexoffending
babysitters reported to the
police (77 percent); females make up
the majority of physical assaulters
(64 percent)." So, don't leave your kid with a male or she'll be sexually assaulted. And don't leave your kid with a female or she'll be physically assaulted. Is that what you're saying? And if not, why not?"

But in crimes committed by babysitters, sex crimes outnumber physical assaults nearly two to one. So given that, there's still a greater risk with the male babysitter than the female.

I don't think that's reason to not consider male caretakers across the board, but it's worth bearing in mind and I think that Kattoo's use of statistics was not so skewed as you imply.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 5, 2008 1:29 PM

For JB in VA:

You asked...How much time did you spend at each center observing?
My experience...At each daycare center I spent 20-30 minutes at 2 or 3 different times. But I also know other parents who observed for 2 entire days before deciding on a center.

You asked...Did you watch drop-off time to see how the kids reacted to seeing their teachers each day?
My response...No.

You asked...Did you only consider centers in your school district, so you could continue with the same center for before & after school care as your children got older?
My response...Location has always been a primary factor in my childcare decisions. For several years we used a center that was near my husband's work but fairly far from our home. Then for a few years we used a center closer to home and my work. Now that our children are school-aged (youngest is in kindergarten) it's a whole different ballgame - we have a patchwork of after school programs that I worry is going to implode one day but so far so good. Learning that no childcare arrangement is permanent has been one of the hardest but most valuable lessons I've learned.

Posted by: cm9887 | May 5, 2008 1:30 PM

"How about contributing some ideas on things that struck a cord for you when you looked for day care - what made you choose A over B?"

Things that struck me, one way or the other: For my daughter's first daycare/preschool out here, my husband did the research. The place he preferred was new and bright white and clean, with a formal "curriculum," and cost the most. I was a little uneasy about how bright and loud it would be -- all walls white, no carpet/drapes, many rooms opening into each other so different classes would have to tramp through others at various times. I deferred to him, since he'd seen them all in person and talked to the teachers. 9 months later we moved her, because she ran into a teacher who didn't know how to manage her, and the director wasn't receptive to our concerns. I do suspect that the noise and brightness (which my daughter is sensitive to) played into some of her behavior issues -- not to mention the teacher's bad attitude (heck, I had a headache after spending an hour there).

When we changed her to Montessori, I was unimpressed by the older and dingier facilities. But I watched how the teachers handled circle time. They never raised their voices, never use harsh tones or words, yet somehow managed to shepherd 23 3-yr-olds into something resembling order. One particular boy got all puffed up about refusing to participate, clearly trying to provoke a power struggle. But the assistant teacher absolutely refused to take the bait, and instead softly encouraged him to join in a few times -- you could just see him visibly deflate when he wasn't able to provoke her, and pretty soon he was right there with everyone else (well, a foot behind them -- he had to maintain SOME pride). It was quiet, relaxed -- and fun. That was it for me.

Posted by: Laura | May 5, 2008 1:36 PM

JB, you probably know about this website:
http://www.dss.state.va.us/facility/search/licensed.cgi
which will tell you the results of inspections in Virginia. I used it as a jumping off point to quickly rule out some options.

When my son was an infant, we used a home-based provider because I liked the smaller ratio and the more individual attention. Now that he is a spirited toddler, we've moved to a center environment where there is more physical room for him to run, play and be active. I loved my old sitter, but he just wasn't happy being confined to someone's living room and small backyard. He's doing much better now and doesn't have nearly as many discipline issues.
What struck a chord with me at the daycare I chose is that the teachers and staff all seemed very happy. And we could afford it. I didn't have the luxury of being able to take a lot of time off work, so I couldn't observe at all the different times you talk about. The location is near our house, because my husband and I work in two different directions, so it is convenient for either of us to be able to do drop off or pick up.

Posted by: RiverCityRoller | May 5, 2008 1:39 PM

Tips:

If you're looking at centers, make sure they're licensed. Just because they say they are doesn't mean anything. I believe most states have a web site for this kind of thing.

Ask for a philosophy of discipline (both at centers and with individual childcare providers).

Ask "How much turnover is there?"

Ask for references.

Ask "How do/Can the parents using the center communicate with each other directly?"

Ask "Are parents informed if an employee is suspected of sexual or other abuse?"

If I went the daycare route, my personal preference would be to have a daycare near the house and not work since I've got flexibility in where I can work some days. But that's just me, you might feel differently.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | May 5, 2008 1:48 PM

11. For moms returning from maternity leave, plan a buffer week (or four) where dad stays home with the baby when mom goes back to work before the baby starts full-time child care at day care or with a nanny. Will make mom's transition back to work much less stressful b/c she's not starting new child care at the same time.

Posted by: Two parents | May 5, 2008 1:55 PM

Part of the time I chose my child care arrangements based on where I was working, but when my oldest was too young for where I was working, and after I stopped working at child care centers, I was in the same boat as everyone else.

location: I have usually chosen something near home, so if I am sick and staying home from work, I don't have to drive far to take the children to their child care programs.

How many to look at: I rarely looked at more than two. I would call around and talk with the director, and then visit the most promising.

What I looked for: understanding of child development, so children are expected to learn from playing, not from sitting and listening to the teacher drone on or from doing paper and pencil "worksheets." Developmentally appropriate curriculum of course stems from this sort of understanding. It was also important to me that I felt the director was open and honest with me (and that I felt I could be the same with her/him). If I felt comfortable with the director's understanding of child development, view of appropriate curriculum, and whatever I could glean of her managerial style, then I was comfortable that the teachers s/he would hire would be appropriate with my child.

I worry less about the bond between my child and the teacher, because there are any number of reasons why teachers leave excellent child care centers. They get pregnant, get sick, retire, move, get promoted to director or assistant director, go back to school, etc. Or they stay in the center, but the child moves to a different class. Or a teacher goes on unexpected leave of absence due to sickness, and the center has to scramble to cover adequately. Changes can occur with plenty of warning and preparation, or with no warning at all. These changes can be devastating or just a blip on the road--mostly it is the way the director handles things that determine the extent of negative impact on families.

Posted by: child care mom | May 5, 2008 2:14 PM

I would add to the proposed #11 -- plan to put your child in day care part time for a week before you start back to work. It's a great transition for you and the baby! I was able to get a lot of last minute errands done, and I was calmer when I returned back to work, knowing that she seemed to love it at least part time.

Posted by: S1234P | May 5, 2008 2:14 PM

Thanks for the practical advise folks. I especially liked the idea that many of these questions can be asked over the phone, and I don't have to spend hours at 5 different day care centers, if I only liked the responses and vibe from 2 or 3 after phone calls.

Posted by: JB in VA | May 5, 2008 2:25 PM

Thank you, JS, for your 11:23 comment. You said what I was trying to communicate, but better, shorter, and with a sense of humor. You rock.

And WMX and Shandra, agreed, the book Protecting the Gift is really worth reading.

Also true -- you have to know your child when making childcare decisions. Childcare is not one-size fits all, or "whatever is cheapest."

Two Parents -- love the "buffer week" idea. could even work for a few months. some companies who would never let you work PT forever might let you work PT for 2-3 months as you transition back. worth asking!

If anyone cares, my National Public Radio segment about moms and Mother's Day airs tomorrow, Tuesday May 6, on Michel Martin's "Tell Me More" show. It airs in the metro DC area from 2-3 pm via WAMU. I'm part of the Mocha Moms segment at 2:30 pm.

You can just go to www.npr.org or here is the podcast link for Michel's show and blog http://www.npr.org/templates/rundowns/rundown.php?prgId=46

Posted by: Leslie | May 5, 2008 2:43 PM

What happened to posting today????

Posted by: dotted | May 5, 2008 8:08 PM

Dotted -- guess it's just you and me, honey. Tech problems...ahh!!!!

Posted by: Leslie | May 5, 2008 9:24 PM

tech problem, smech problem. How does the IT group get away with this on a continual basis?

Posted by: dotted | May 5, 2008 10:11 PM

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