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What to look for in a day care centre: Here are some useful things to keep in mind

Aruna Raghuram Aruna Raghuram 8 Mins Read

Aruna Raghuram Aruna Raghuram

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Leaving your months-old baby and returning to work is hard. But a good creche can do a lot to lower your stress. Here are some tips for choosing a good one

What to look for in a day care centre: Here are some useful things to keep in mind

I am in the middle of my 26-week maternity leave. Knowing I will have to return to work soon and leave my baby in someone else’s care is a disturbing thought. But I have to mentally and emotionally prepare myself for this big change in my life. For the past three months, my life has revolved around my baby. Soon, I will no longer be able to savor every contented gurgle and smile of his or soothe him every time he is distressed.

Ours is a nuclear family and I can’t bank on help from grandparents or other family members. Hiring a nanny is an expensive proposition. Moreover, I feel that we will be more vulnerable if we rely on one person. So, a day care centre is our choice. We started looking for a good one even before our baby was born, but now we are intensifying our efforts...

Zeroing in on a day care centre or creche for your baby is not an easy task. The caregivers at the centre will be in charge of your baby for many hours of the day. You need to trust the centre and the caregivers and feel comfortable about leaving your baby there. It takes time to gain that kind of trust.  But when you select the centre you must feel reasonably sure that this is the right place for your baby. Without this level of comfort, you will be unable to focus on your job at your workplace. You will be constantly worried about how your baby is doing.

So, what are the things to consider while choosing a daycare centre for your baby? Here are some things to keep in mind:

Type of centre: Do you want to opt for a formal, professionally-run centre or an informal one run by a homemaker in the neighbourhood? Professionally run day care centres may be stand-alone, part of a chain, attached to a school or attached to your workplace.

Both formal and informal centres have their pros and cons. While the former may have better facilities and trained caregivers, the latter may have fewer children and, as a result, there may be more personal attention and less exposure to illness. Also, an informal centre may be more flexible about timings and more accommodating when you urgently need child care.

Reputation: Seek recommendations from your paediatrician, friends and family members. Online reviews and ratings have their limitations. It is always better to visit the centre and judge for yourself.

Size: The size of the centre – the number of children – matters a great deal. Are the number of caregivers adequate? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a ratio of one adult for every three babies up to 12 months of age is ideal.  Babies need adequate one-on-one time and attention from warm, responsive caregivers.

The physical size of the centre also matters. The premises should be spacious with sufficient floor space for babies to crawl and move around.

Timings: The timings of the day care centre should suit your work timings. Also, if your work hours are unpredictable, you may prefer a centre which is more flexible in this regard.

Location: You will have to decide whether you want the centre to be close to home or close to either your work or your partner’s. The important thing is that you should be able to reach the centre quickly in case of an emergency.

Cost: Are the charges affordable for you? How do they compare with those of other centres you are considering? The charges may vary widely depending on the reputation of the centre, location and facilities.

Waiting list: Some day care centres may have a waiting list. What are the chances your child will be accepted by the time you are ready to go back to work? Try to find out.

Surveillance: Does the day care centre have CCTV cameras? Is the live footage accessible to the parents via their mobile phones? Being able to monitor their child anytime is usually a big factor for parents to decide on a day care.

WHAT A VISIT WILL REVEAL

If you can drop in for an unscheduled visit, you will get a better idea of how the centre is managed. During your visit, here are some important things you should pay attention to and ask questions about:

  • Guidelines: Does the centre follow the guidelines…
  • Medical Care: Find out whether there is a doctor on call, a first aid box and basic medical necessities. Check the guidelines the centre follows while dealing with sick children and sick employees. How long do they have to stay home?
  • Safety: Check if babies under 12 months are kept separate from toddlers who can get rough. How are visitors monitored? Are the doors secured? The room should be child-proofed with gates near stair areas, grills on windows and balconies and covers on electrical points. Check that the toys and play areas are safe. Sharp objects and cleaning agents should be kept out of reach of the children.

    All the furniture and fixtures should be safe and sturdy. What about fire safety precautions? Ensure that the babies are sleeping on their back with nothing around that may smother them like a pillow, blanket or teddy bear. This is to prevent SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). There should be no choking hazard objects your baby can get hold of.
  • Cleanliness: Is the centre well-maintained? Are the floors and counters clean? Does the centre follow a shoe-free policy so that the floors are kept clean for the babies to crawl on? Are the cribs and sheets clean? Is the refrigerator kept clean? Do the babies look clean? Observe whether the caregivers are washing their hands properly after each diaper change.

    Are the caregivers following vital norms of hygiene while feeding the babies?  You may leave breast milk, formula and/or solids for your baby with them. Do the caregivers seem earnest about following your instructions? Each baby’s things (bottles, sippers, clothes, diapers, towels and toiletries) should be kept separate. They should not be used for another child.
  • Facilities: Are the premises well-lit and well-ventilated? The children should feel neither too warm nor too cold at the centre. Check whether there is a generator in case of power shutdowns.  Is the water supply regular and adequate? You may be sending drinking water for your baby from home. But check for a water purifier anyway. Is the sleeping area quiet? Is there a sufficient stock of age-appropriate toys to stimulate your baby? Are there set timings for eating, sleeping and playing?
  • The attitude of caregivers: This is a key factor. As both child and parents may experience separation anxiety, it is a blessing to have staff with a positive attitude. If the staff at the centre are energetic, loving and patient, you will know your baby will be well cared for. Do the babies look happy and contented?

    Does the day care centre have an overall nurturing environment? Ask the caregivers about their views on feeding, soothing, changing, lulling babies to sleep and other infant care matters. For instance, what if your baby cries if she is not held constantly? What if he refuses to eat? How does the caregiver deal with these situations? What is the attitude of the caregiver with regard to enforcing discipline? While hitting is a complete no-no, even verbal abuse should not be tolerated. Whether it is feeding time or nap time, there will be areas of conflict with caregivers that may need to be sorted out once you start leaving your child at the centre. For this, the caregivers have to be amiable and flexible.
  • Training: What is the minimum qualification of the staff? If the staff is trained in early childhood development, it is ideal. But this may be hard to find in an informal day care centre. Here, hands-on experience (with one’s own children) would be an indicator of how well the caregiver will take care of your baby.
  • Staff background checks: Does the centre do background checks and police clearance on staff? This is vital to ensure that your child is kept safe and is not subjected to abuse of any kind.
  • Communication with parents: Is there sufficient time to discuss how the day went with your baby’s caregiver? This is very important both for your baby’s well-being and for your own peace of mind.

Also read: How to prepare your child for day care

As working parents, if you find a day care center that is right for you and your child you will feel less guilty and apprehensive about sharing child care responsibilities with caregivers. You will be more relaxed and focused at work.

Your Action Plan

In India, there are National Guidelines for Setting Up and Running Creches under the Maternity Benefit Act 2017. The guidelines cover creches for children between six months and six years. They focus on key parameters such as timings, infrastructure, equipment, health and nutrition practices, safety and protection, trained human resources and parents’ engagement. Go through these guidelines and keep them in mind when you visit a centre.

Above all, don’t worry! Your parental instincts are good indicators of whether your baby will be happy and well cared for in the day care centre.

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