As more parents return to work amid the COVID-19 pandemic, day care has become crucial for many families. But finding an affordable, safe, and quality child care under these extenuating circumstances can be quite a challenge, to say the least.
Child care providers are now required to reduce their capacity to just 9 kids for every teacher. As if that’s not bad enough, the new sanitization regulations along with personal protective gear for all child care providers and staff have significantly increased expenses with substantial cuts to revenue.
Without a government bailout, we are looking at approximately 4.5 million child care slots lost, which makes it increasingly difficult for parents to find available spots for their little ones.
With extended wait-lists and limited slots, you need all the arsenal you can gather to find a quality day care for your child. Here’s a list of factors you need to consider in order to find the facility that is truly the best for your child.
1. A Healthy and Safe Environment
More than ever, safety has become a top priority for parents during this pandemic. Dr. Matthew Trokel, a paediatric emergency physician of the Monterey Peninsula Community Hospital recommends that parents should find out if the facility is following the new sanitization regulations like handwashing, disinfection, screening of both children and staff, etc.
Children should be given multiple opportunities to wash their hands throughout the day, especially before they eat. All personnel should also wash their hands along with the kids and wear necessary personal protective gear.
Ask the day care center if they are constantly disinfecting high-contact surface areas like high chairs, tables, food preparation surfaces, utensils, drinking fountains, etc. According to protocol, facilities should also screen everyone, children and staff, prior to entry.
2. Subsidies, Grants, and Programs
Because parents returning to work boosts the economy, and because child care has become a lot more expensive due to the pandemic, several services and programs have come up to help parents ease some of the financial strain.
Look for government subsidies that are typically available in the form of sliding fee scale. You can apply through your area’s Childcare Resource & Referral Agency, your community action agency, or your county’s social services. Also, ask about available subsidies in the child care centres that you are investigating.
Many big Companies also provide child care subsidy or endorse a network of child care providers. As an employee, you will receive a discount if you use any of these providers. Don’t be shy to approach your Human Resources Department to find out if your Company offers such discount or subsidy.
The bottom line is, with the help of a subsidy or discount, you will be able to afford a higher-quality child care service than you normally would.
3. Location of Child Care
Pandemic or not, location of the facility is one of the biggest priorities for parents when choosing child care.
Nothing beats the convenience of finding a facility that is close to the proximity of your work or home, especially during emergencies when you may need to get there quickly if your child gets sick.
You may also want to take into account the general setting in which your child will be receiving their care. Take for instance a daycare located in an urban setting versus one that is located in a residential setting. The types of opportunities and benefits they provide will be different.
4. Qualified Teachers
Besides creativity and intelligence, teachers should also have the necessary professional training and education, says Fiene.
Do not hesitate to ask if the administrators and teachers have childhood education degrees and whether the facility provides any professional development programs every now and then.
Any good child care centre should make sure its staff is attending yearly training to keep themselves relevant and sharp.
5. Good Teacher-to-Child Ratio and Constant Supervision
We all know children do not adhere to social distancing. More than ever, maintaining social distancing is of paramount importance in this pandemic and it is the duty of the caregivers to keep an eye on each child at all times, even when they are napping.
Ask what their child-teacher ratio is. Ideally, one caregiver should oversee not more than 3-4 young toddlers/ infants, 4-6 older toddlers, or 6-9 preschoolers. This will ensure that your child will not be over-crowded and will get the much-needed one-on-one attention which is crucial for emotional and social development.
6. High Standards and Constant Improvement
If your state offers approval levels for day care programs like licensing and registration, find a licensed facility as they are expected to meet high standards.
Some states also offer quality ratings for different programs. If yours does, find one with a high rating.
Seek programs that are always looking to improve, like asking parents to evaluate their program, inviting evaluators from outside to examine their program, arranging training programs for staff and caregivers, etc.
7. Are You on the Same Page?
Is the day care open to suggestions and ideas from parents? Do you agree with their values? According to Hassan Anderson, you need a “partnership relationship where the day care center shares the same values as you.”
Frequent communication and shared values between parents and the facility centre is vital. The day care should also hold parent conferences where the caregiver can communicate goals and share the developmental progress of a child with the parents.
“As a parent, you should be able to drop in at any time,” says Fiene. If the day care does not allow surprise visits from parents except at designated times, this could be a red flag.
It’s easy to lose sight of what’s really important during such stressful times.
You need to handle your day care search as you would a job hunt. Start your search early (preferably 6 months if you live in a big city), be thorough, and do your homework.
Long waiting lists have become the norm these days, especially in NAEYC-accredited centers.
When you plan ahead, you will get a wider range of options by getting on the waiting list well in advance. Remember also to keep in touch with the administrators so your little one doesn’t fall off the radar.