It can be hard to even think about placing your child or children in the care of someone but sometimes life doesn’t allow for any other option.
In Colorado, we are lucky to have a great program called Colorado Shines that rates early learning programs for children but there are additional steps you should be taking to help find the proper fit and the safest, most secure child care environment.
Here are some steps that can help guide you in your decision-making process:
There are many different child care providers available in the state of Colorado.
Some options will be limited by the age of your child or children, the availability of the program, and your budget.
Your options may include:
All of the above program types should be licensed by the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS), which means they are inspected and licensed every year and monitored during that time to ensure that the programs and centers meet health and safety standards.
Your preference is personal. If you are not looking for early childhood education and would prefer a more play-based program, that is entirely up to you.
Programs vary in price, and you will have to decide where your budget will be best spent.
You may pay more for location, if you require extra time, or if you work odd hours and shift work. Consider these factors and map our your expenses so you can clearly understand how these additional expenses fit into your overall household budget.
If you are unable to afford childcare, there are still options available to you. The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) is available to families in need, based on some determining criteria. Child care assistance is administered through your county. You can learn more about CCCAP and how to apply here.
Just like you would ask for references when interviewing a potential employee, when securing child care for your family, you can ask child care providers to provide you with references that you can verify.
If the center is unable to provide names due to privacy concerns, a quick Google search can give you many answers about the quality of the providers you are considering. You may also choose to post a question on social media seeing a peer review or child care referral.
A final option is to stop by the center close to pick up or drop off time and ask parents for their thoughts on the facilities, programming, and level of care.
You may also ask the child care center for proof of their license issued by the state of Colorado. Alternatively, you can contact the state for more information on a particular licensee.
When you are making your decision about child care services, you will want to visit any sites you are considering.
An in-person visit can give you a better idea of a number of things like the programs available, the staff to child ratio, the cleanliness and safety of the facilities, and the way staff interacts with the children.
For infants and toddlers, child care providers should be sitting or kneeling on the floor, close to the young children, holding, interacting, and playing with them.
For older children, getting close to their level is also important. Look for child care providers that sit in the low chairs provided to children and interact playfully and with care.
Children establish relationships with others based on early interactions with their parents and/or caregivers, therefore it is important to ensure that your child or children are being given one on one time with their caregivers whenever possible.
Your child’s development will be guided by both you and your child care provider. While there will be times when the staff or primary caregiver is tied up with other tasks, but, generally speaking, you should be looking for a caregiver or early childhood educator that makes an effort to connect with and engage your child.
Screen time in early childhood should be limited, or non-existent, making way for children to participate in outdoor play and plenty of physical activity.
Look around the site for age-appropriate books, toys, and activities geared to developmental milestones that encourage children to play using their imagination and creativity.
Just as important as physical activity is free play and quiet time. Children benefit from quiet time, and being in child care facilities can be overwhelming for young children. Ask about scheduled nap times or quiet play.
The way you choose to discipline and parent your family is totally up to you. When you are considering family child care, you will want to choose a provider that best aligns with your values.
Ask about disciplinary tactics, screen time, sleep and quiet times, and what constitutes an “illness” at the child care center.
If you are interested in a family home daycare, it is important to determine if there is a backup or substitute provider in case of staffing illness or emergency. If the center does not offer a substitution, remember that it is likely you will need to take your own vacation or sick leave days if you are unable to find your own alternative.
Licensed child care facilities like child care centers or child care homes may use time outs or other forms of disciplinary tactics, and you will need to decide if this is appropriate for your family. Similarly, the provider’s approach to nutrition should also align with your own.
Finally, a reporting system should be established either via a paper or online report daily or weekly. This will include any incidents that may occur between your child and another.
As a parent, you are responsible for the wellbeing of your children. Your first impression and intuition will be the most important tools you have for deciding upon a child care provider.
Your children should be as safe with a child care provider as they are at home. While you will not be able to replace a parents’ love, your child care provider should care for your child and provide appropriate attention and play so that he or she thrives in that environment.
Childcare facilities should be clean and organized. Young children how have not been fully potty trained should not be left to sit in soiled diapers for any period of time. The child care facility staff should wash their hands after diaper changes and prior to feeding children. These seem like basic and obvious requirements but sometimes, you might notice something that suggests these things are not being practiced or followed.
Trust your instincts. If you do not feel fully comfortable with a child care facility because of its cleanliness, staffing, or lack of consideration for child development, it is best to steer clear and keep looking until you find a place that puts you more at ease.
Colorado Children’s Campaign is committed to providing a child care space for every child under the age of 13, regardless of family income. They also work to ensure that there are no gaps in educational opportunities.
Colorado has several early childhood councils that help to provide local resources to families with young children.
If you are struggling to make ends meet, but require child care services, you may be eligible for programs under the Colorado Children’s Campaign.
Choosing the perfect early childhood center for your family will require you to make many inquiries and observations. No matter what child care center you choose, you are still the primary caregiver for your child. If you put time and effort into choosing a provider, you can know that you are giving your child additional opportunities to learn, grow, and socialize.