If it wasn’t clear before COVID-19 it is clear now: Childcare is essential for working parents. It is often one of the toughest decisions a parent must make in their child’s early life. Choosing a childcare center is also one of the most expensive budget decisions, especially right now.
According to Child Care Aware, average child care fees are more than what families spend on food and transportation combined. However, finding affordable childcare presents a challenge in itself. In 28 states the average cost for one child in daycare was higher than tuition at a four-year public college.
To make matters worse, finding information about daycares can be difficult as many don’t have up-to-date websites. Any information they have is not easily searchable and often doesn’t include prices.
“It is impossibly stressful to start looking for daycare before you have a child,” Jennifer, a mom who has been living in Brooklyn for over a decade, tells Parentology. “You have no idea what to look for.”
The First Step
As you begin your search for a daycare, you need to think about the two biggest factors that impact the decision for most parents: location and price. A daycare needs to be in an area that is an easy commute from either work or home. It also needs to fit into your budget.
How can you determine the average cost of daycare in your area when daycares don’t list their prices? The obvious answer is to do Google searches, make lists, review their websites or call them up and hope they give accurate pricing information over the phone.
There’s also a new site called Upfront. It offers accurate, specific pricing for daycares based on real submissions from parents. It also displays location, hours, and contact information. Now parents can pre-screen facilities based on a budget before moving forward.
Red Flags When Touring a Daycare
After doing initial research, it’s time to actually tour the facilities, which is a great way to interact with the staff. Ask your questions, see how the children are cared for, and ask yourself these questions:
- Is it safe and sanitary?
Take a look at the toys and furniture to make sure that it’s clean and nothing looks broken. Also, make sure to see the restroom or changing area to ensure that it meets cleanliness standards.
- Are there large groups of kids?
Depending on the age group of the children, there are regulations for the ratio of children to adults. If it looks like the groups of children are too large, the facility might be understaffed.
- In an emergency, would it be easy for children and the staff to exit?
If a bookshelf or toys are blocking the exits, it would be hard to leave quickly. While checking out the exits, also look around for non-expired fire extinguishers, as well as sprinklers in the ceiling.
- How long have staff members worked there?
If you start hearing that employees don’t stay for very long, they could be treated poorly or the daycare is a bad work environment.
- How are the caregivers interacting with the children?
While you may not notice obvious signs of mistreatment, you’ll want to keep an eye for things like children being left unattended or how caregivers speak to the children.
- Is the staff wearing masks?
In the time of COVID-19, you’ll want to make everyone’s being as safe as possible. In addition, you’ll want to make sure they are mandating children of certain ages are wearing masks and that the facility has social distancing measures in place.
Making the Final Choice
After you have toured several facilities, you’ll start to feel ready to make a decision. Trust your gut, but also make sure you have a backup plan. Many daycare centers have waitlists, and you should avoid getting your heart set on one place. If, after the tours, you still feel like you haven’t found the right daycare, you may need to go back to your search and consider being flexible in location or costs.