Choosing Child Care

Welcome to the first special of our "Getting to know you..." series. Throughout the next few weeks we'll introduce you to the many child care agencies, organizations and related services who can help you with your child care needs and concerns.

The fact is, there are many services available to asssit parents, caregivers and employers. Most are as close as your computer or your telephone.


Child Care Agencies
Can parents avoid high caregiver turnover? It's unlikely. But by enlisting the services of a child care agency they can lessen the chances of having to search for a new caregiver often. In the least they'll have a whole network of support personnel to help them out when the time does come.

Finding, and for that matter keeping quality child care, is not always easy. Considering that daycare has one of the highest turnover rates of any profession, it is easy to see why hanging on to a quality caregiver is so difficult.

Child care agencies can be found in urban and rural areas. The services they offer vary. . Where one agency operates a network of family daycare homes, another offers everything from group care to family day home care, and from emergency care to help for children with special needs (multi-service agencies). And, there are nanny services, granny services and (wince) babysitting agencies.

For the most part these agencies assist parents in identifying their child care needs and work to match them with a caregiver or centre. In addition, the agency handles the financial arrangements, recruiting, training, and monitoring of caregivers. Many work with government offices on subsidy programs for parents who are struggling financially.

Depending on the agency there may be a small to substantial initial processing or service fee. Parents should ask the agency about their fees when they call for information. While on the phone parents should also inquire about:

    * waiting lists
    * backup care, and
    * the agency's policy if things do not work out (i.e., will they replace the caregiver or find other suitable care for their child).

Parents would be wise, as well, to ask for three or more agency references and, before they go any further, do a complete check on the agency. A quick call to the Better Business Bureau, local and or state/provincial licensing offices and Child Care Resource and Referral Agency to inquire about the agency is usually all it takes.

While most agencies are a welcome resource for parents, some have been known to do little more than headhunt for providers. Background and reference checks are seldom performed. Again, this is not always the case, but as with any type of child care parents choose, checking references is a must.

Family Daycare Agencies

Family daycare agencies take care of all the time-consuming work parents must do when selecting unlicensed or licensed independent family care.

What makes the agency a good option for parents is that in addition to a parent's own diligent monitoring of their child's care, agency providers are subject to monthly visits by the family day home inspector who ensures each child is adjusting well. Safety inspections are conducted annually.

Parents are also assured that local staff/child ratios are not exceeded and in many instances the family daycare home is accredited, providing a higher level of care.

Agencies are often (but not always) regulated by the state or provincial government. Many are non-profit corporations run by a board of directors made up of parents, providers and others prominent in the child care field. A quality agency provides its members ongoing support through networking, promotion, information, research and advocacy. Waiting lists are common place with such agencies and parents are advised to get their child on the list early to ensure placement in time for them to return to work.

In addition, agencies offer parents flexibility by offering replacement care if things do not work out with the original provider, as well as back up care when a provider is ill, has personal appointments, or simply decides not to continue providing care.

A word of caution - though agencies are a valuable resource, they too have their problems and parents would be well-adivsed to run reference checks on any agency they choose.

Multi-Service Agencies

In addition to the above, multi-service agencies offer parents licensed group care, play school, summer day camp, a resource center, child care information service, short term and special needs care, and does it all under the watchful eye of nurses, social workers, early childhood specialists and teachers.

Because of the range of services a multi-service agency provides, parents can easily move a child from a family day home infant setting to group care, then back to family care when the child reaches school age, without ever having to worry about starting the searching process over again and again. It works the same if a child is having trouble adjusting to group care -the agency can ~ arrange to place the child in a family setting, or vice versa.

Each agency varies on the types of services they provide, and, needless to say, the amount of funding an agency is able to secure greatly enhances the services it provides.

Nanny Agencies

In-home care is by far one of the most expensive forms of child care. And the price to register with some of these agencies is not cheap either. Furthermore, nanny agencies are not regulated. A word to the wise, check, check, check. It may be easier on parents to verify a nanny's references BEFORE interviewing her. Be wary of an agency do does not readily offer a nanny's references.

Nanny agencies do all the work involved with locating trained nannies from many parts of the world including England, France, Italy and the Philippines. Parents need to clearly understand their obligations when hiring this type of child care, which usually involves payroll deductions such as income tax and pension plans, as well as working Visas.

To begin the search for a child care agency, parents should contact their local Child Care Resource and Referral or Community Information Service located in the Yellow Pages of their phone book under daycare/child care.