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Day Care Centers vs. Home-Based Providers – Which is Right for You?

If you’re a working parent, chances are you’ll need to use a daycare provider at least part of the year. Typically, you can choose from a daycare center or a home-based provider. By learning how these different types of providers compare, you can determine which one is best for you and your child.

The first things to consider are the credentials and certification of the various providers you’re considering. A daycare center should be able to provide you with certification and training information for its staff members, as should a provider who works out of her home. If you’re using a provider that will come to your home, you may need to ask for their authorization to conduct background checks yourself.

The next thing to consider is the child-to-provider ratio – basically, the number of children each staff member is responsible for. Typically, acceptable ratios are mandated by state regulations, so it’s important to find out what the ratios are in your area. Some centers and providers who work out of their homes will have fewer children per care provider than state regulations, while a provider who comes to your home will obviously have only your children to care for, unless you’re sharing services with a friend or neighbor.

If you’re expecting a provider to come to your home, be clear about your expectations. Do you want the provider to prepare meals just for the child, or for the whole family? Will other household duties be included? Be clear about you expectations with any potential providers you interview to avoid confusion later on.

You should also think about the kind of environment you want for your child. Does your child do best in a quieter environment with only a few other children and more one-on-one time? Or does your child thrive in a larger group with many opportunities for interaction? If your child is more comfortable in one of these environments, do you want to replicate that environment, or challenge them to adapt to a new environment? Find out how your child or children will be spending their time in each situation. Will there be planned activities and outings? Is a particular educational curriculum or philosophy used?

Fees and hours of availability should be your next consideration. In the case of a provider who works in their home or yours, what happens if the provider is sick, or wants to take a vacation? Do they have a backup plan, or will you need to find other care for your child?

Find out how the various providers are prepared to handle common situations, accidents or emergencies that could occur with children. For example, are they trained in performing CPR for infants and children? What would they do if your child fell and had an injury that needed stitches? If your child is ill, will they administer medication?

Ask each provider for references and follow up. Many people don’t actually take the time to follow up on references, but what a references tells you – and doesn't tell you – can provide important clues to their level of satisfaction with the provider. Don’t hesitate to ask for additional references if the ones you do contact seem to provide conflicting information.

Once you’ve narrowed the field down to a few providers, it’s time to check out the providers in action. For a daycare center, or a provider who works from their home, drop in, preferably unannounced. See how they react to a surprise visit. If you’re considering having a provider in your home, have them come and care for your child under the same circumstances they would be providing care, except for your presence. Finally, go with your gut instinct to choose the best provider for your child.

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