- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 29, 2002

Family child care

Cost: The price varies depending on the age of the child and number of hours he or she will be in the caregiver's home. Family care in the Washington area typically runs from $125 to $200 weekly. Day care centers run about $165 to $200. A nanny ranges from $350 to $550.

Advantages: May be less expensive than center care. Providers may be able to take siblings and keep them together, rather than separating them by age, as in a center. Greater chance for socialization than at home with a nanny. Better chance for attention than in a center with a higher child-to-caregiver ratio. Caregiver might take children part time, whereas some centers take full-time charges only.

Disadvantages: May be hard to find backup care if caregiver is ill. May be subject to fewer regulations than center care. May have fewer amenities, such as an impressive playground, than a day care center.

The phone interview

The phone interview is a good chance to gather information about a program. If you feel comfortable with the caregiver on the phone, set up a time to visit in person. Some questions to ask:

•Are their any vacancies?

•What is the total number of children in the program? What are their ages? If the caregiver has all babies and you have a 3-year-old, it might not be the best fit.

•What is the general philosophy of the program? How is discipline handled?

•What snacks and meals are provided? Is the caregiver a member of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) food program (through which the provider gets subsidies and reimbursements for providing balanced meals)?

•How long has the provider been in business?

•What are the fees, and when is payment due?

•What are the hours of operation? Are there any late fees?

•What kind of education and training does the provider have?

•Will anyone else be home during the day (such as the provider's spouse or older children)? Does the provider have an assistant?

•Are the provider's own children part of the group?

•What happens when the provider gets sick or goes on vacation? Does she have backup care?

•Are their pets in the home? If so, what kind and how many?

•Does anyone in the home smoke?

•Will the children be going on outings by car? Where will they be going? Will the caregiver run errands during the day? Are their enough car seats for all the children?

The home visit

When visiting a family day care, take along a checklist of items that are important to you. Take notes. If you like what you see, bring your child back to get a feel from the place. Visiting several homes will give you a good comparison.

•Is the home adequately childproofed (such as electrical outlets covered, gates on stairs, etc.)?

•Does the provider take the children outside for fresh air? Is the yard fenced?

•Do the children seem happy?

•Does the provider show patience and a sense of humor with the children?

•Is the provider flexible and open to adjusting the day to fit your child's needs?

•Is cultural diversity respected?

•Can you drop in at any time?

For parents of infants

•Does the provider seem nurturing and experienced in caring for infants?

•Does she hold the infants during feeding times?

•Is each infant on his or her own schedule for napping and feeding?

•Are there bright, interesting toys at the infants' eye level?

•Are babies allowed to crawl and explore?

•Where is the diaper-changing area? Is it clean?

•Does each baby have a quiet place to nap?

•Is the caregiver supportive of breast-feeding?

For parents of toddlers

•Is the provider experienced in dealing with toddler behavior?

mDoes the provider encourage toddlers to use words to resolve conflicts with other children?

•Are the children allowed to watch television? If so, how much and what shows?

For parentsof preschoolers

•Is the program stimulating, with varied preschool activities?

•Is the children's artwork displayed at their level?

For parents of school-age children in after-school care

•Does the provider offer school-age activities?

•Are the children allowed to watch television or use the computer?

•Does the provider seem knowledgeable about school-age issues?

•Does the provider have school-age children of her own at home after school?

•Are the children ever allowed outside the home on their own? If so, under what circumstances?

Sources: "The Unofficial Guide to Childcare," by Ann Douglas; Fairfax County Office for Children; Montgomery County Child Care Resource and Referral Center; Monday Morning Moms.

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