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By Tasha Brown

I’ll never forget the day my friend described the idea of child care as, “leaving your heart in a room, and expecting it to be in the very same condition you left it when you return.” Now if that isn’t the perfect visual, I don’t know what is.

All moms have their standards and deal-breakers when it comes to child care. And as a first-time mom, I tried to remain realistic when choosing a child care facility. We first-timers can be a bit extreme, so when looking for suitable care, I tried to keep myself in check. After asking all of the necessary questions and making sure that most of my want and need lists were checked off, I thought I had found great child care until my child actually attended classes at a chosen facility. After the first three months, the honeymoon period wore off and there were a few things that made me begin to question my judgment.

My biggest complaint was inconsistent communication involving policies and procedures. Each month it seemed like there was a practice that was not aligned with the company’s handbook. From the additional tuition fee administration forgot to mention, to limited interaction and play with my son, to developmental testing and “diagnosing” my son without my and our pediatrician’s knowledge, input, or instruction, to the unhealthy food options/schedule. I found in many situations that the teachers and administrators were not on the same page and often said one thing but did another.

The worst feeling was leaving my child in a place where I didn’t trust anyone. Despite many conversations with administration and teachers, I was left unsatisfied and did what any mom would do: I started the search for new childcare. I had to adjust and readjust quickly for my son’s safety, my sanity, and overall peace of mind.

So what do you do when your child care sucks?

In moving forward, I visited three different facilities (two franchise facilities, and one home care provider) unannounced. I requested handbooks. I looked for a diverse staff. I asked many questions about staff trainings, outdoor play, food plans, learning and development curriculum, camera access, state standards and ratings, incident report policies, as well as the transition process. I was not playing any games this time. Ultimately, I chose a home care provider who is faith-based and educates the children.

Here are some other things to consider when seeking child care:

Open Door Policy – Can you tour the facility or “pop up” whenever you wish? If you have any concerns or questions, who should you contact?

Food Options/Schedule – Is there a monthly food calendar in place? Is the facility a nut-free facility? What time is lunch served? My son used to have lunch at 10:30 a.m., which is insane, with a light snack at 2:00 p.m. So consequently he was irritable and starving when I picked him up at 5:30 p.m.

Are there foods/drinks served that you don’t agree with? For instance, I don’t feed my one-year-old red meat, Oreo cookies, white bread or juice. These are all things the original child care center served. I learned that almond milk (which was a personal preference) could not be served due to it being a nut-free facility. I also learned that the facility had specific state documents that had to be completed if the child had a specific diet, and that a doctor’s note was not acceptable.

Assessment and Learning Curriculum – Now this is something you really need to inquire about and understand. What does the center’s curriculum look like? What is the center’s philosophy? Looking back, the administration and teachers at my son’s original center told me that the state had designed a curriculum and development plan, but had also stated: “We don’t really follow it because the kids are so little. And at this age, it just doesn’t make sense.” (Silly of me to still enroll him after this blatant statement.) Don’t judge. Just know that I’ve learned my lesson for sure. Also, know that most child care workers are not professionally trained to “diagnose” children. So be aware and stay involved in the event there is a diagnosis that you don’t understand or agree with. Statistically, minorities are more likely to be “boxed” or labeled at an early age. Be aware, and get third and fourth opinions.

Teachers and staff – Who are they? Do they have kids? How long have they worked at that facility? What education/certifications do they possess? Lastly, do they look like your child? Meaning, is the teachers and staff population diverse? While raising my Black son, it is important that he sees teachers/staff that look like him.

Camera Monitor Policy – Is the facility monitored? Do you have access? Is there an additional fee for access? Can you access the monitor from your phone?

Quality Assurance Regarding Teacher and State Star Ratings – How many quality stars does the center possess? Each facility should have a star rating, and if it doesn’t, the center should be in the process of obtaining an adequate star rating, per President Obama’s Child Care Reform plan.

Transition Process/Procedure – As your child transitions from one classroom to the next, what will this process entail? What will prevent your child from transitioning? Is there a developmental checklist?

Communication/Transparency – How will the teachers/administration communicate to you? What warrants an Incident Report? Will the teachers provide daily reports of the child’s behavior and activity?

Referrals – Do you know other parents who have enrolled their child(ren) in the center?

Despite being a visible and very transparent parent, there were moments where I missed the mark. Ultimately, I ended up not happy with the care and operations of my son’s original child care program. Unfortunately, seeking adequate child care can be a trial and error process. When deciding on childcare, know what you want and don’t.

Never feel obligated to waiver on issues that are important or significant to you. If things don’t make sense, ask questions. After all, your child is your heart, and he or she deserves your advocacy.

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