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Child Care Outside the Home

Navigating the World of Day Care

Although it can be somewhat easier to find a good family day care or day-care center than to find someone who will care for your baby at home, this search also takes time. Start looking as soon as you've made the decision to go back to work. You'll be glad you took the time to do it right.

You can find a good day-care provider using many of the same resources used to find a nanny or sitter. For instance, the classified section in your local newspaper probably has dozens of ads for child-care centers as well as several for family day-care providers. Also check under Day Care in the Yellow Pages of your phone book. You should find both centers and family providers there, too.

Word-of-mouth is the best way to find family day-care providers, so ask clergy members, your pediatrician, and your neighbors. You should especially take the time to consult other parents, who are often much more willing to share information when talking about out-of-home care.

If you're looking for a larger day-care center, don't forget to ask your employer. Often, employers, such as hospitals, corporations, and sometimes unions, provide the best center-based care. Large employers have come to recognize that providing quality day care can attract valuable new employees and keep the employees they already have happy.

Exploring Your New Day Care

Whether looking for a family day-care situation or a larger day-care center, always take the time to visit the site with your baby before registering your baby. Look around and see what the caregivers are doing with other children your baby's age. Do the caregivers seem attentive to the infants in their care? Do they talk to the babies? Form an overall impression and ask yourself: Will you feel comfortable leaving your baby there?


Should you ever have second thoughts about the quality of care your child receives? Maybe if you consistently or repeatedly observe:

  • bruises, cuts, or signs of abuse
  • profound hunger, dirty diapers, or signs of neglect
  • crying, signs of withdrawal, or listlessness toward the day-care staff

You should start looking for another day-care provider immediately.


Check references as thoroughly with day-care providers as you would with someone you're bringing into your own home. After all, if your darling will be spending a significant amount of time there, you'll want to know what other parents think of it.

As you tour the site and talk to the caregivers, pay particular attention to the following considerations:

  • Space. Does it seem adequately babyproofed? Do you see equipment to climb and plenty of stimulating, age-appropriate toys to explore? If the day care has a playground, is it also safe for babies? Is the space divided into separate areas, if not separate rooms, for sleeping, eating, changing diapers, and playing?
    Is the changing area well away from the eating and playing areas? Does the staff clean and disinfect the changing table after each use? Do they wash their hands before and after each changed diaper?
  • Size. Count the number of infants (including your own) and the number of caregivers. With infants, who need a lot of individualized attention and do not participate in group activities, the ratio should not exceed three children for each caregiver.
  • Staff. Ask about the staff's training and experience. Find out how many work fulltime and how many work part-time. (Hiring part-time workers who get no benefits is a cost-saving measure that may indicate less training, dedication, and overall quality.) You might also want to know how management conducts background checks on its staff members and the turnover rate among the child-care staff.
  • Licensing. All day-care centers should have state licenses. (Few family day-care providers do.) Have state reviews ever turned up any violations? If so, what were they and what changes were implemented to address the problems?
  • Program and philosophy. Does the caregiver offer the flexible, individualized program that infants need? What's the balance between group activities and individual play time? Do the caregivers do anything special to help a new child adjust? Do they encourage the use of security blankets or other comfort objects?
  • Logistics. You'll also want answers to practical matters. What happens if you're late to pick up your baby? Who supplies food for snacks and meals? Can they accommodate sick children? If so, what do they do to curb the spread of illness? Are toys regularly scrubbed and disinfected to keep them relatively germ-free?

More on: Babies

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Bringing Up Baby © 1997 by Kevin Osborn. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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