Will My Baby be Safe?
She'll be crawling before you know it. Look for gates, covered outlets, and latches on cabinets; easy-to-find emergency numbers (fire, poison control); age-appropriate toys; surfaces that are disinfected regularly. Watch for red flags that show the daycare isn't current on safety standards, such as drop-side cribs or baby walkers with wheels. Once you're secure with the environment, think bigger picture: You'll want to make sure that the doors are locked and all entries are monitored. Speaking of which, all center employees should wear some type of ID, and there should be a list of approved pickups.
What Will It Cost?
Fees vary greatly, but infant and toddler care is generally more expensive because of lower child-to-caregiver ratios. Center-based care — with higher overhead including salaries, benefits, curriculum, equipment, materials and facilities — costs 21 percent to 46 percent more than home care.
What Vibe Do You Get from the Staff?
Stephanie Burchett, a Chippewa, Pennsylvania, mom and former daycare worker, says you can learn a lot by observing staffers: Are they gentle and nurturing? Do they respond quickly to crying? “When you visit, don't just follow the director on the tour,” she says. “Stop and talk to the staff. Approach each one as a potential new friend to see if they'll actually communicate with you, as opposed to just giving canned answers.” Hang out in the lobby and watch interactions between the staff and children.
What's the Baby-to-Caregiver Ratio?
To thrive, babies need lots of one-on-one attention — being held, talked to and rocked. That means a maximum of three or four babies per caregiver, says Anderson; for toddlers, no more than five or six. Though numbers are mandated by each state, better facilities often stick to a lower ratio for optimum care, Anderson adds.
What are the Care-Givers' Credentials?
The more early childhood education and experience, the better — but staying up-to-date is also important, says Murphree. Ask about professional development opportunities for the staff. “Are they encouraged or required to take classes to st ay current?” she adds. About 75 percent of teachers at schools accredited by the NAYEC, for instance, have a minimum of a CDA (Child Development Associate) credential; some have bachelor's degrees and years of experience in the field.