Finding the Perfect Home Childcare Provider

By Tanya Parker

As a childcare provider, I understand how parents struggle with the decision to leave their child in the care of another. Many parents, faced with the reality that they must go back to work after maternity leave, nervously bring their baby to daycare that first time wondering if they are doing their child a disservice, and fearing whether their child will be properly cared for.

It's true that finding quality childcare can be challenging, but there are many resources that will help you in your quest.

Most states (in the U.S.) and provinces (in Canada) have agencies or government departments that can assist you in your search. They are generally called "Referral Agencies" and most often are non-profit organizations. If you do not know what your local childcare referral agency is called, ask around. You might call a local pre-school or another non-profit related to childcare. Or do an Internet search for childcare referral agencies and include the name of your state or province.

A referral agency can give you a list of home daycare providers in your area. Now that you have the list, the first thing you should do is talk to your friends. Most home daycare providers, if they are established, will have a reputation. Your friends may be able to give you referrals to providers they trust and sometimes they can warn you about providers whom they don't find adequate. Another great source of information is playgroups. Take your child to a playgroup and ask around.

Once you have a few providers in mind, give them a call. The phone interview is an important first step. A few things should be discussed that will help you determine if you want to take the next step, which is a face-to-face interview. First, ask if the provider has openings. If not, you may wish to be put on a waiting list. If they do have openings, you may want to ask about their capacity. How many children are they caring for? Next, you should ask about their hours. Do their hours match with what you're looking for? If not, are they willing to bend a little? Some providers will, others won't, but it doesn't hurt to ask.

Finally, you need to discuss money. Don't feel uncomfortable talking about money. Providers appreciate this because they like to know that you understand exactly what your monetary obligation will be. After all, no provider wants to take on a client who isn't willing to pay.

The phone interview is not the time to discuss the provider's philosophies on things such as discipline, potty training, and pacifier use. These issues should be discussed during the face-to-face interview. If your child has special needs, you should discuss this during the phone interview simply because the provider may not have the required training or facilities to care for your child.

At the interview, the first thing you should do is ask for a copy of the provider's license. If there is no copier available, look it over, noting the capacity and which rooms are licensed for use. The provider cannot use the entire house if it hasn't been approved for use. Write down the license number. You can find out if there have been any claims made against this license of inappropriate or ineffective care. The provider may be insulted by your request for the license. However, that's what the license is for and you have every right to ask to see it.

Bring a list of questions to the interview. These questions should cover topics such as nutrition, nap, discipline, potty training or diapering, outdoor time, the daily schedule, curriculum, and anything else about the childcare you may wish to know. You should ask about the caregiver's experience and how she feels about children and providing childcare services. Your provider should be someone who loves children and enjoys her job.

While at the provider's house, look for things such as cabinet locks, smoke detectors, and outlet covers. Even if your child is not yet walking, these are signs that the home has been adapted to a family childcare with the safety of the children in mind. Also, check that the home is set up efficiently for a childcare with enough space for play; the home is clean and free of clutter or obvious hazards such as radiators or wood stoves, and the provider has suitable materials for a childcare.

Last but certainly not least, watch the way the provider interacts with the children. When I did interviews with parents, the first thing I did was greet the child. The parents should be more concerned with how I interact with their child, not about my conversation skills with them. Can the provider get down on the level of a two or a three year old? Is she patient and loving towards the children? Is she equal in her attention to the daycare children and her own children? That's a difficult one as most providers have children of their own who are constantly vying for attention.

If you are satisfied with the home and with the provider, ask for references. The references should include at least one current parent and could include previous parents. The provider will give you a copy of her contract as well as any other policies that you should be aware of. Most likely you will pay even when your child is out and you will pay for holidays and other closings. These are standard issue daycare rules and must be followed if you wish to keep your slot. Sickness rules are very specific and are meant to discourage transmission of illnesses. If you are confused about any policies or about the payment schedule, discuss them with the provider before you leave the interview.

Once you have selected your home childcare provider, the most important thing to remember is to stay in constant communication. Always be frank and direct about you and your child's needs. If you are forthright, she will follow your lead and openly and honestly discuss your child's progress with you. Be willing to accept that your child may have difficulties in daycare as most children do from time to time. Resist the urge to defend your child and hear what she has to say. With a little listening and continued communication, you and your childcare provider can have an excellent working relationship.

Tanya Parker is a freelance writer living in Massachusetts with her husband, two daughters, and three cats. This June will mark the end of her three year run as a childcare provider. She plans to continue working on her novel and pursue her writing career. Contact Tanya at

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