A recent study by the U.S. National Institutes of Health showed that children in high-quality child care scored slightly higher academically as teenagers.
Dr. Robi Ludwig, contributor to Care.com, discussed how to make the process of finding high-quality child care as painless and as effective as possible with "Early Show" co-anchor Erica Hill.
According to Ludwig, the key here is "a happy parent equals a happy child. So, you really need to think of something that works for the parents and that is really convenient."
So how do you find quality child care that best fits your needs, budget, lifestyle and, more importantly, your child's unique developmental needs?
"Well, I think you need to look at the costs. You know, clearly with a day care center, the cost is a lot cheaper. So that's great for kids. It's great for parents. But if you have a job where you're working lots of crazy hours, you may need somebody who's like a second pair of hands. And that's where a babysitter can come in and it really works out well for people in that situation," Ludwig explained.
Let's say you decide on some sort of day care facility, whether in-home day care or more of a stand-alone facility, what do you look for when you go to that place?
"You want to look at the ratio of teachers to kids, because you want there to be enough kids. Also, you don't want there to be a high turnover. You want an open door policy so parents can come in and look and see what's going on. You want to ask about holidays and sick day policies," she said.
Also, you want to consider how convenient is it for you.
"Do you need something that is close to your home so that either parent can drop off and pick up the child? Because drop off and pick up can be a great source of angst," Ludwig added. "Do you want something that's close to your job? So, if your child is sick or you need to work overtime, you can get to the day care center a lot easier."
Ludwig also suggests talking to other parents to see what the day care's philosophy is.
"You want to get a sense that it's a really good place for your child. A good place for you. And that you feel comfortable and always, as with anything else, keep the communication open with you and the teachers that are there," she said.
If you are considering an in-home caregiver, there are certain criteria that he or she should meet. This can be discussed over the phone before you meet in person.
"Are they flexible the hours you need them for? We've both been in situations where people check out because the hours don't work for them. Do you need someone who drives? Do you need someone who's bilingual? Someone who cooks?" Ludwig said. "You need to think of the babysitter almost as your second wife, your second pair of hands. Is this the person you really want taking care of your child when you're not there?"
What should you ask for when checking on a caregivers' references?
"Why did this person leave? I think that's an important question. You know, did they not meet your needs? Were they not good with the kids? And then ask, how were they with your children? You want to get a sense of who this person is and try to get as much of a picture as you can, which is a little bit tough," she added.
Ludwig also suggests asking how engaged where they, by asking: "Do they stimulate your child? Do they read to them? Do they do homework? Do they take them on activities? How involved and active are they."
How important is age?
"You want to look at age. Listen, if someone has a lot of good experience, that has a lot of value," she said.
How should you approach this if you're bringing in a family member as a caregiver?
"If a family member is willing and able to come in and help your child, great. But you can't treat your family member like a hired help. You can't say, 'I need you to clean and do this.' You have to work in a different way," she said.
Lastly, if you bring someone into your home who's not a family member, you have to treat it as a business.
"It is a business. It's more than a business relationship. You need that contract because people are coming from different places when you're getting hired. You need that black and white (to) go to whenever there's a question. It just helps keep everybody happy."
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