Kids: Who's Minding the Children?

By Sandra Fletcher

The call came in to my office mid-afternoon. I had only been back to work for 4 months and my sons were at a day care near our home. My oldest, then 3, had run head first into a wall and wouldn’t stop crying no matter what anyone did to soothe him. I was understandably upset and worried about my son but I wasn’t panicked – I knew I’d chosen a good day care with people that cared about my kids and provided a safe place for him – accidents happen.

Every parent worries when they are separated from their children. Finding the right day care with the right resources and support system isn’t easy. Its a matter of not only providing a secure happy place for your children to learn and grow – its about providing the right environment for your child’s safety and happiness.

There are a lot of different day care options available to working parents.

Home day cares are individuals who run day cares or “babysitting” operations from their own homes. These are largely unregulated by any government offices and it is the parent’s responsibility to check on important things such as qualifications, insurance, first aid training, etc. Although the cost of childcare run by individuals in their homes can be substantially lower, the quality of care can be as well.

Public day care is provided by municipalities and governments (such as school boards) in community locations. Often these types of programs are either short term and may run over school breaks, etc. These programs include before and after school programs, summer camps and march break programs. Care is provided by employees of the community agency or school board and is regulated by that office.

For-Profit or corporately run day cares are in almost every community across the country. Fees for these child care spaces (as well as non-profit organizations) can be subsidized by government programs. Day cares that are run corporately make up 25 % of all day care spaces in Canada according to the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care. These companies generally run well organized and profitable operations – but can be less focused on the children and more on the bottom line.

Non-Profit day cares are funded by a combination of fees for services, subsidies, government and agency grants and funding. These centres are regulated in the same way as the corporately run centres, but are administered by a board of directors. Boards are generally formed with members of the community and parents, and decision-making is very different from corporations. The focus of not-for-profit centres is primarily the children and families who attend.

How do you know what’s best for your child?

Finding daycare is not an easy process but doing it properly will save you time and worry in the long run. Erika began looking for daycare for her daughter five months before she returned to work after her maternity leave. She interviewed seven different places including community day care, a day care chain, a not-for-profit day care centre and home day care providers. All of the locations were safe; all had well trained staff and their prices were comparable. In the end she went with the provider who paid the most attention to her daughter during their interview – making her daughter the centre of attention.

You can start, as Erika did, by looking around your neighbourhood for day cares. Ask the people you meet who have similar values, culture and language as you do who they use for day care and if they have recommendations (or cautions) for you. People will often tell you bad experiences in much more detail than they will remember good ones. Any information is helpful.

Make phone calls to the places you’re interested in visiting. If people are impolite on the telephone, they will likely be impolite in person. Schedule visits with the day cares that interest you – make sure to bring your children!

When you have your interview ask to meet with both an administrator and a child care educator. Ask your questions about the operations of the day care to the administrator and questions about the day to day child care to the educator.

It’s a tough decision figuring out who will take care of, protect, educate and help you to raise your children. If you are uncomfortable or unhappy with the day care at all – you have the ability and the right to raise your concerns. If the situation isn’t changed to your satisfaction – then change the day care! Ultimately, the happiness of your kids depends on you!

Top Ten Daycare Checklist:

1. What ages of children does the centre cater to? Will they be able to meet the social, physical and educational needs of your kids (including preparing them for school)? Are there nap-times for little ones and stimulating lessons for older kids?

2. Are the staff accredited Early Childhood Educators? Do they have first aid and CPR training? Do they receive ongoing training? Will they be good teachers for your kids?

3. Is the centre insured for fire, liability, etc.? Are all company vehicles adequately insured? If in doubt – ask to see the paperwork! It’s your RIGHT.

4. Does the centre, if applicable, meet or exceed provincial regulations? Ask to see the accreditation documents if you want to be sure.

5. What kind of hygiene takes place at the centre? What are the hand-washing, hand sanitizer, cleaning and toilet policies? Your child will be exposed to more germs in day care than at home and keeping disease from spreading is a good habit.

6. Will your child be able to be cared for in a language that they understand? If you or your child have English as a second language are there staff members that can speak to you in your own language? Will your child be helped with their English skills?

7. What activities will your child participate in? Are there field trips, craft classes, outdoor park playtime or community walks? Are these things you are interested in your child doing? What type of cultural or religious activities will your child participate in? Do these reflect your values?

8. What types of food and snacks will your child receive? Are they healthy options and foods that your child will eat and drink?

9. How much or how little are the parents expected to or allowed to participate in the day care activities? Are you comfortable with their standards?

10. Is the cost of the day care affordable for your family? Are subsidies available? How flexible are the day care payment policies including absences due to vacation and illness?