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The Hunt for Infant-Toddler Child Care

Beginning the search for a good place to have your infant or toddler begins with you and all the people who care about your baby. No matter how many hours a child is in an alternative care situation, you the parent, are and will be the most important person in your child's life. In order to provide the best child care for your infant or toddler, take the time to think about what is really important to you.

caregiver hands

This information piece will help you think about your options, and help you determine what is most important to you. "Caregiver" in this article means any person who cares for your child, besides you, the parent.

There are several options for quality child care for infants and toddlers: center-based care in Day Care Centers, Family Day Care Homes, or in-home care (trained nannies) to name a few. Other considerations you need to think about are: where a child may go (availability), who the child would be most comfortable with, at what cost, transportation decisions (how close to home or work), when (at what age) would entry into a child care arrangement be best, and where would the next best place for child care be for preschool care. It is no wonder the decision to find quality child care is so difficult!

Attachment and Bonding: Will It Be Lost in Day Care?

A major task of infancy is to form a secure attachment with parents and other caregivers. A secure attachment means to have an emotional bond with a person who is viewed as absolutely different from all others and feels irreplaceable.

Children behave differently around 7 - 10 months of age as new knowledge emerges. This is when a child notices that objects do not disappear into space, but they might be hidden under or behind things. This new ability, object permanence, makes it particularly hard for a child when mother and/or father or other important people leave the room. The child has the understanding that the person did not "disappear" but could return if only he/she could find them.

Concern has been expressed that child care may interfere with the formation of an emotional bond with parents. Older studies showed that some infants in day care may be slightly more likely to form insecure attachments with mothers (Belsky, 1988). Although the research studies are generally inconclusive, there is no research evidence that infants become attached to caregivers instead of parents. Rather, infants form attachments to parents, caregivers and others, while remaining most strongly attached to parents (Lamb & Sternberg, 1990).

It has been implied in current research (Lamb, et. al., 1992) that the likelihood of insecure attachment may be avoided by high quality care, and starting other caregiving arrangements during the initial "pre-attachment" months (before 6 months) rather than during the period during which attachments are consolidated (6-12 months).

caregiver hands

What Is "High Quality Care" for Infants and Toddlers?

High quality care is safe and protected, and gives opportunities to experience an environment that enhances children's development. Developing your own checklist would be helpful in discovering what kind of care would be best for your family.

Availability for high quality child care is difficult, but not impossible, especially if you are clear about what you are looking for and continue to investigate your options for getting what you want. Look at the options that are open for your time requirements and budget. Your local Child Care Resource and Referral agency will be able to give you a list of caregiving options for you in your area. Once you have the list, use your checklist to call each one. Ask many probing questions on the phone, and go visit the ones that meet your needs the best.

What Is Their Purpose and Philosophy?

Just as your family has traditions, passions and a special mix of personal beliefs, so does every place that could care for your child. Look at the "profile" or basic characteristics of the place.

Find out how long the center (or person) has been in the business of caring for children. Experienced people sometimes — but not always — have a reputation and you can call other parents to talk about the program or people who will care for your child. Make sure the hours that the center is open matches your needs. Some programs and people charge extra fees if you are late.

High quality programs have a governing board, or are a part of a larger organization that can offer support services. Have the person you talk with explain who helps to improve the quality of care and prevent "burnout." You wouldn't want your child with a burnt-out caregiver!

High quality programs and people with training in early childhood have a philosophy, attitude or approach to caring for infants and toddlers. The most current research tells us that infant/toddler programs that are play-based, encourage a lot of interaction with toys and people, and allow for individual children to grow and learn differently actually do better in school when they are older. Ask what they do all day with infants and toddlers.

What Is a "Primary Caregiver?"

It is important for your child to have a connection, a person that the child recognizes and wants to be with. This person is called a "primary caregiver" with infants and toddlers. If your child is with one home day care provider throughout the day, that person is the "primary caregiver." In centers, however, you need to make sure that usually the same person and group of people will be with your infant or toddler every day. This helps to build security and trust with the world. You will also need to know who your child will be with if the "primary caregiver" is ill, or not able to work. Find out what kind of arrangements they have for substitute care. Find out how they all work together to make the place for your child a good place to be.

It also helps to have the same person know your child, learn her/his unique way of communicating with the world. This is the person who can share your concerns, and can let you know all that goes on in your child's day. Quality caregivers are sensitive, accepting, cooperative, and accessible to meet children's needs.

baby swimming

How Does a Good Infant/Toddler Child Care Center Look?

A good place for your infant or toddler will be a great place to be a child, and also, a great place to be with a child (Greenman 1989). It is as important for adults to be comfortable, especially with infants and toddlers, so that they can talk and play together more easily. If the place you choose to place your child is comfortable for both the child and the adult(s), chances are it will be a nice place to spend a lot of time.

Another equally important consideration is the attention to safety. This involves making sure that the toys are safe for babies, there is enough room, and the adults allow for children to play with each other safely, without hurting each other. There will always be small accidents, but a general concern for safety should be present in the environment and the people who will care for your child.

The health and well-being of all children should be a concern of all child care providers. A general health policy will tell you when a child is too sick to be away from home, which will protect your child from other children's illnesses, and help you determine if your child is too sick to be away from home.

The sanitation of the place is important. Looking clean isn't enough. Make sure that the caregivers know "Universal Precaution Procedures" for caring for children. This means washing hands regularly, and taking all safeguards necessary to prevent the spread of disease and infection.

Developing Your Own Checklist

The following guide is a start for you to develop your own list of what you want in an infant/toddler center. Take the time to think about what you are looking for before you begin your search. Add the things that are important to you that aren't listed.

Safety Concerns

  • Hazard control: look for electric cords, open sockets, broken toys or toys with small parts.
  • Check the toys and materials to make sure they are non-toxic and safe to chew - infants and toddlers learn through oral investigation.
  • Emergency plans are well laid out - phone numbers posted, procedures clearly visible.
  • Children are allowed to play with one another, but not permitted to hurt one another.
  • Space is provided for crawling/toddling and protected space provided for non-mobile children.
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Learning Opportunities

  • There should be enough toys available to be interesting and not cause sharing problems, but not so many that the room seems cluttered.
  • "Play" is emphasized, rather than adult-directed activities.
  • There is enough space indoors and outdoors so children are not crowded.
  • There is a special place for your child's belongings.
  • The environment includes both soft and hard surfaces for a variety of textures - this is especially important for infants and toddlers.
  • Make sure the caregivers can explain how the program for learning includes opportunities for physical, intellectual, problem-solving and communication skill-building.
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Feeling, Concern and Guidance

  • Individual needs are important: the caregiver(s) use children's names and respect a person's culture.
  • Caregivers recognize children's feelings and encourage children to share their feelings in ways that are appropriate.
  • Caregivers help children solve problems themselves, encouraging them a little bit at a time.
  • Respect is taught by showing respect.
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The Human Environment

  • Check the background and history of the caregiver or caregiving staff.
  • Ask important questions that are important to you. For example: How do you feel about children who cry a lot? Anger in children? Children who whine a lot? Find out how they handle the situation.
  • Caregivers need to upgrade their skills through continuing education. Ask what they do to remain current about childcare/child development and how this adds to their center.
  • Ask if you can quietly observe a part of their day before making a decision to place your child in their care.
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Connections with Your Family

  • A time and space is available for you to talk with your child's caregiver at pickup time and dropoff time.
  • There is a way to communicate what has happened to your child before you leave your child, and there is a record kept on what happened to your child during the day: naps, numbers of feedings, foods offered and tried, activities, etc.
  • Parent meetings are offered so you can meet other parents of children your child plays with.
  • Find out where older children go for care when they leave this program when they are preschoolers.
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Other Things That are Important to YOU

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