Saturday, May 14, 2011

Choosing Quality Childcare

I've had this topic on my mind quite a bit lately.  I've been perusing some babysitting ads as well as ads for in-home childcares.  One of the things that has completely shocked me is the number of people who will post that they need a babysitter on the day they need one.  Apparently, they have imminent faith in the world and its people.  Call me a skeptic, but I've been around the block enough times to know that quality care--whether it's for full-time care or just a few hours--is not that easy to come by.

As a parent, I have a responsibility to leave my children with people who are capable of caring for them appropriately and have given no reason for a person to have doubts about their characters.  I often wonder if parents are aware of what makes a quality caregiver, what expectations they should have, and how much they need to pay.  The reality is that if you're paying for in-home childcare and your provider is charging very little, you're not getting a great deal--you're getting a trade off.  You are paying less money and in exchange your child is getting lower quality care.

Choosing quality childcare is not something that I can possibly sum up in one post, so I'll probably be working on this topic for awhile.  There are a lot of different issues that parents need to be aware of when choosing the right care for their child.  Studies have shown that the average American parent spends more time picking out a new car than he or she spends picking out childcare.  If posts on babysitting service sites are of any indication, those studies are right.

When I was a kid, we had a babysitter every Saturday night and she was always in her teens.  These days, I would be hesitant to leave my child with a teenager unless I knew the teenager was exceedingly responsible, my child was fairly predictable and responsible, I would only be gone for a short amount of time, and the teen's parents were home and lived nearby.  The world is different today than it was thirty or forty years ago.  Most states have extremely fuzzy laws surrounding the issue of how old a child needs to be before being left alone or in charge of younger children.  Generally, laws state that a child is considered old enough to watch other children in the home if they are responsible enough to ensure everyone's safety.  I think that's a really dangerous standard; it's basically leaving the decision up to the parents until something goes wrong.  Then all sorts of problems, including legal ones, can ensue.

For me, there were some absolutes in choosing a sitter:
*I had to know the person well.  Most of my children's sitters were previous students of mine, or other college-aged young women.  When I interviewed a person I wasn't familiar with to care for my child, I got references and checked them.  I also had every sitter come by and meet my children at my home.  This enabled the sitter to get a "lay of the land", so to speak, and for my children to feel a bit more comfortable around the sitter.

*The person had to be trained in Infant/Child CPR and basic First Aid.  This is something that has grown increasingly common, but parents don't always ask or check for updated training.  If I really liked a sitter, I could always give him or her time to obtain training.

*The person had to have some knowledge about children.  Whether it was education or experience, I wanted to know that whoever was with my children knew in general what to expect of kids their age.  This also helps to ensure the person knows how much they need to supervise in different situations.

*The person had to be an excellent communicator.  Call me a helicopter mom, but I do expect sitters to communicate how the evening went as a whole.  I like to know what my kids are doing, and if there were any concerns or problems.

Parents have certain responsibilities to a sitter as well, starting with-
*Clear communication.  Caregivers need to know your expectations, the children's schedule, any health issues the children may have, where and how you can be reached, and what time you should be home.  I always provided a written note that contained all the information above so the caregiver could refer to it whenever needed.

*Checking in.  I think it's a good idea to check in with all caregivers, regardless of the situation.  With sitters, I tried to call about halfway through the evening to see how things were going.  Be sensitive to your sitter as well; try not to call when she might be helping your children brush their teeth or get in bed.

*Pay a decent wage.  It's only babysitting, right?  To some extent, yes.  But if you're hiring a college student who has experience working with children, pay him or her the going rate or better in your area.  Eight years ago that was about $7 an hour in our neck of the woods.  Now it's about $10.  If you have a good sitter, treat him or her well.  Sometimes it's honestly hard to pay as much as you wish you could, so make an effort to appreciate him or her in other ways.  Return by the time you say you will, and pay for the time you agreed upon.  Make sure there is something decent for him or her to eat if s/he's there during mealtime.  Don't add extra duties like feeding the dog or cleaning the kitchen if you can avoid it.  And remember your sitter during the holidays, even if it's only with a tiny momento.

So those are the basic expectations for both sides.  Quality care is not going to present itself without a bit of time and effort on parents' parts.  Know what you're looking for and what you should be doing to make it happen.  Your kids will thank you (one day...promise!).

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