… and How about the Turnover Rate?
Daycare centers have a notoriously high staff turnover rate — around 30 percent is average — due to low pay, lack of benefits, and the physical and emotional demands of child care. Babies thrive in a stable, nurturing environment, so look for a place where employees stick around. To encourage staffers to stay, a good daycare treats them well — so ask about employee benefits, if there's a staff room for breaks, and how much time off they get — that sort of thing. Whether it's a center or home daycare, a place with lots of long-timers is a good sign that it's a great environment.
Can We …?
… cloth diaper? Visit for lunchtime breastfeeding sessions? Bring a lovey? Ask if special requests are doable. “When Kyin started eating finger food, we wanted to bring in healthier options than what was listed on the snack menu,” says Stacey Hilton of Raleigh, North Carolina. “Not all daycares would allow that, but ours did, and it was important to know that up front.”
Is there a Separate Area for Babies?
Babies should never be grouped with older children, says Carol McNally, director of the Jewish Community Center's Richard Adler Early Childhood Learning Center in Maitland, Florida. Little ones can get stepped on, pushed or even bitten by active toddlers. The infant room should also be equipped with cribs, changing tables, a refrigerator, and rocking chairs for nursing moms or caregivers who need to feed or soothe a crying baby. Watch out for overreliance on devices such as swings, cribs and bouncy chairs, advises McNally. “Look for plenty of supervised tummy time.”
Is It Open When I Need It?
Double-check that the center's hours fit your schedule — you'll be scrambling for additional child care if they don't. Plus, centers usually charge by-the-minute fees for late pickups. Don't forget to ask about holidays too. “We discovered many places follow public school closings,” says Mary Scarpelli of Brooklyn, mom of 2 1/2-year-old Sienna. “It was important for us to find a place open all year round, with closures only on major holidays.” Home-based care may be more flexible, but ask the owner about her policy on extra hours.
What Transitions are in Store?
Change is tough for babies and toddlers, so it's good to have a heads-up on all major transitions. At a center, for instance, you'll want to know when children move out of the baby room into a toddler area. At a family daycare, you might ask what happens if the owner is sick — or takes a vacation. Consistency of care is huge, says Anderson. “It's extremely important for infants to have continuity in their daycare relationships,” she says. “You want your child to develop that trusting relationship, and know there's a primary caregiver, no matter what kind of daycare you choose.”