**Disclaimer** This is certainly not the be-all and end-all guide to choosing a daycare provider! This info is based on my experience and is just an overview of a few of the options out there and how to get started on the process. **Disclaimer**
If you’re not a parent or parent-to-be and you don’t have friends with small children, you probably know nothing about daycare, and why would you? Selecting a daycare was the most stressful part of my pregnancy and that was with me being fairly informed going in. Here are some of the basics and some resources to get you going in your search.
What kind of care do you want/need?
I’m going to give some information on 2 basic types of childcare: a Daycare Center, and an In-Home Daycare Provider. There are other options such as nannies, au pairs, or having family or friends watch your children. We didn’t look into any of those options so I don’t have much to offer on those.
Centers (such as Celebree, The Goddard School, etc) usually take babies as young as 6 weeks old and the children are grouped into rooms according to age (and sometimes development). For example, your child might start out in the infant room (6 weeks – 9 months), then move to an older infant room (9 months – 18 months), then on to toddler rooms and pre-school rooms. These centers usually also offer before and after school care for school-aged children. There are usually set hours for a center (such as 6:30am-5:30pm).
In-Home Providers are people who care for children in their home. Home providers should be licensed by the state. The licensing requires a background check, some training, and routine inspections of the environment. Some providers aren’t licensed, so it’s a good thing to check on when you’re considering a provider. Usually an in-home provider will be 1-2 people caring for 6-8 children in their home. The ages of the children will vary by provider – some don’t take infants, some take babies as young as 6 weeks. In this setting, you usually have a small number of children of varying ages. In-home providers also usually have set hours, just like a center would.
Do you need full-time or part-time care?
Part-time infant care at a Center is pretty much not available. “Infants” are any children 2 and under. Maryland has a no crib-sharing law that means that if a daycare room has 6 cribs for infants and you only want to send your child to occupy that crib 3 days a week, they can’t put another baby in there on the days your baby isn’t there. So while you can send your baby only 3 days a week, you will still pay full price. Part-time care for toddlers and older children is usually available.
Part-time care for both infants and older children is more widely available for in-home care, though it will vary by provider.
How much does daycare cost?
In this area (Baltimore-Washington metro), daycare is EXPENSIVE. Like mortgage payment expensive. Well…maybe not quite that much but certainly more than a car payment. Daycare fees are usually charged weekly. The cost is higher for infants and generally goes down as the child gets older.
The centers we looked at ranged in cost from about $325-$360/week (and there were more expensive options, but we didn’t even look at them). So that’s about $1,500/month or $18,000/year. I know, it’s painful.
The in-home providers we looked at ranged in cost from about $165-$250/week with $200/week being pretty average. So that’s about $850/month or $10,000/year (I’m rounding and averaging here). It’s a price break over centers for sure, but still expensive.
If your child is sick or out of daycare for some reason, usually you still have to pay. Bill hated this concept, but you have to think of it like tuition. If you pay tuition to attend a class, you don’t get a refund for being out sick one day.
When should we start looking for daycare?
ASAP. While you’re still pregnant would be ideal. We started looking when I was about 20 weeks pregnant (7 months before we would actually need him to start) and most of the centers already had a wait list. We ended up reserving a spot for him with an in-home provider about 6 months ahead of when we’d need the spot. As for reserving a spot, there is usually a deposit involved. At some centers, it’s 1 month’s fee. Some in-home providers don’t allow spots to be reserved that far in advance and you may have to wait until it gets closer if you decide to go that route.
Where should my daycare be located?
We were not sure about this when we began our search. Bill and I both work in the same city about 40 minutes away from our home. Would it be convenient to have Caelan in daycare near where we work? Near our home? Somewhere along our commute? We looked at providers in all 3 areas and ended up deciding to go with one near our home. It’s true that when they call us and tell us he’s sick and we have to go get him that it will be at least 45 minutes until we get there. But because our provider is so close to our home, Caelan’s “commute” and the time he spends in the car amounts to about 4 minutes per day. Lucky boy 🙂
How do I find a daycare?
As I said at the beginning of this post, selecting a daycare was a very stressful experience for me. I did a lot of research into centers (searching websites and making phone calls – and I HATE making phone calls!) to find out about hours, prices, and availability. I also got recommendations from friends and scheduled tours/visits of these places (which were usually mid-day so they required us to take off work). Bill and I disagreed on what price we thought was reasonable and we ended up looking into in-home providers as a result. We are very happy with our choice and it was a huge relief to get Caelan’s spot reserved and out of the way when he was still a fetus!
Maryland Family Network
A great site where you can search for centers or in-home providers by location. There is often information about each provider’s hours, policies, and sometimes prices. Though it’s not always 100% accurate on the prices, so a phone call to confirm would be wise.
Maryland State Department of Education’s List of Licensed Childcare Providers
This list provides the address and contact information as well as the provider’s license number.
Maryland State Department of Education’s Compliance Records Search
to search for a provider’s licensing inspection records.
So…are you panicked yet?? Searching for someone to care for your child (and possibly spend more time with them than you do during the week) is a big undertaking. Aside from the obvious safety and logistical concerns, I think the biggest thing is feeling comfortable with the provider you choose. We did 7 visits/interviews and I knew pretty much right away whether or not I’d feel comfortable leaving my child with each one of them. Knowing that I felt really comfortable with our provider made it a little less traumatic to drop of my teeny tiny 11 week old on my first day back to work!