Here in Los Angeles, where our families are spread out, or many of us are from out of town and far from our support network, it can be hard to find good childcare that you can trust. Fortunately for the working parent, there are always resources to turn to. Sometimes you just have to work a little harder to find them.I’ve been there and done that. My two children went to a daycare starting when they were each 1 year old. My search for the right provider was physically and emotionally exhausting, and the transition from being at home with the kids to being at work full-time was just like you read about and hear about from friends: weepy and painful. The tips below will not prevent that from happening to you, but they might make your search a little bit easier.
Where Do I Start?
1. The Child Care Resource Center of Los Angeles is a non-profit agency that serves as a hub for childcare professionals, facilities, and preschools. They handle licensing of providers, financial assistance for parents, and resources for early childhood development and education. You can use their website to find daycare providers based on your address.
Connections for Children is a similar service that covers West LA and the South Bay.
2. Your workplace may have resources as well – contact your HR department for more information. However, larger companies often have waiting lists as long as Rapunzel’s hair. I put my son on the waiting list at the on-campus daycare at the university where my husband works, and a spot opened a year and a half later, long after we’d forgotten all about it and grown to love our provider.
3. Some churches run daycares for the 5-and-under set. If you’re flexible to look outside your own religion, there may be more choices for you.
4. Depending on your community or your profession, there may be message boards where you can post a notice that you’re looking for a daycare, or there might be ads up already! Consult a trusted local community resource like Jen’s List or Peachhead.
5. Or believe it or not, a simple web search for your neighborhood and “daycare” can yield worthwhile results!
What’s Out There?
Basically there are two types of licensed daycare: home-based, and facility-based. The first is run out of the provider’s home, and can include that person’s family members and/or hired aides. The second is in a commercial facility and tends to be larger and more institutional. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages.
Home-based care can feel more like – well, home. If your child is very young, this is an advantage because you won’t feel like you’re sending your infant off to school every day. Many providers cook lovingly prepared meals for their charges, and even involve the kids in meal preparation. This type of daycare also has more flexibility in schedule and policy-making.
Because they’re smaller, home-based daycares can fill up faster. And there may be other family members present or coming in and out of the home during the time your child is present, so you’ll have to be comfortable with that environment.
Commercial daycare facilities can be larger and accept more children, exposing your kid to more socialization opportunities. These locations can have more toys, bigger yards, cooler play structures, etc. They also are more likely to employ more professionally trained childcare providers, who have degrees in child development or education.
Both types of daycare, if licensed, have strict rules handed down by the state of California and the county of Los Angeles to which they must adhere in order to retain their licenses. Their food is monitored. Their locations are inspected. Their children’s hours are reported. Formal complaints can be lodged if necessary.
How Do I Choose?
1. One major consideration is location. This is Los Angeles – nobody works near where they live. So if you have a steady job, you can choose a daycare near your office. Then you have more time with your kid (albeit sitting on the 405 together) and you can easily zip over to the daycare from your office if there’s an emergency. On the other hand, if you work in the entertainment industry or some other similarly seasonal job, you might want to choose a location near your home to give your child some consistency.
2. You have to be comfortable. The place can be the most beautiful gleaming fortress of childhood nirvana, but if you don’t get a good vibe from it – turn around. Your instincts are more important than you know.
3. Ask a lot of questions. Anything you can think of. Don’t be afraid or timid – this is your child and your money, and the provider should be willing to answer. If she or he isn’t, that is a red flag.
4. Just like with location, the provider’s schedule and flexibility need to fit with your schedule. You will often find that there is a set pickup time at the end of the day, such as 6:00 PM. If you don’t pick up your child by that time, the daycare may charge you more money for every 5 minutes or 15 minutes that you are late. Again, hello this is Los Angeles. Nobody gets home at 6:00 PM.
5. Look around and pay attention. Don’t be shy. When you visit, use the bathroom and notice how clean it is. Look at the other children and notice how happy they are. Visit at pickup time to see what the other parents are like. Ask for references and call them and ask all the questions you asked at the daycare. All of these things will help you form an idea of what the daycare is like when you are not around.
6. Remember that for the daycare, this is business. For you it’s much, much more than that, so your decision is paramount. Don’t feel guilty or bad for taking up the daycare’s time – they want you to tour their facility and ask 1,000 questions. They want your child and they want your money. Of course they are willing to give your child love and care, but the bottom line is that they do this to make money. If you are ever uncomfortable or have a question –speak up.
How Do I Let Go?
Once you make your decision and schedule your first day back at work, now you have to follow up and go through with it! Here are some little suggestions to make the transition easier.
1. Go to the daycare with your child every day for a week. Start with a few hours on Monday, less on Tuesday, and so on. Perhaps on Friday you can leave him there the entire day to make sure he’ll be okay. Then on Monday when you start your job, the kid is already a veteran daycare attendee.
2. When you drop your child off and leave the daycare, don’t sneak away. It can be tempting to slide out the door while she is playing with something so you can avoid a meltdown, but it’s better for the kid to say goodbye, even if she cries and clings. It sucks for you, but 2 minutes after you leave she’ll be just fine.
3. Feel free to drop in during the day to check out how your child is doing. If the facility doesn’t allow this because they don’t want a parent’s presence to disturb the flow of the day, ask if you can observe from a window or somewhere out of sight. They should allow you to and if they don’t and you’re uncomfortable with that, they are not the daycare for you.
4. Give it time. Transitions are huge for children and I know from experience that they can be even bigger for parents. I caught myself NOT thinking about my son while I was at work that first week, and I felt terribly guilty! But making ends meet and knowing that he was in good hands while I was working eventually made me feel much more secure. It can take a few weeks to get used to the experience, and any knee-jerk reactions might not be the best for your child.
Kim Tracy Prince is the managing contributor of CBS Los Angeles Best of Family and the founder of the blog House of Prince.