How to find childcare is one of the most challenging and important aspects of early parenting. Whether you need daily childcare or someone to watch your baby once in a while, virtually all parents have to find someone else to care for their child at some point. Even if you don’t have plans to need a sitter, unexpected situations arise in life, and having a go-to when in a pinch will be a major stress reducer.
In my article about childcare settings and arrangements, I cover most of the available childcare options, but knowing what is out there is only half the battle! Here, I’ll share some tips on how to find childcare, because it’s important for you (and your baby) to have some useful tools that help you actually find something that meets your needs. In addition to providing details on how to find childcare, I’ve also created a planning guide that provides childcare interview questions. It’s available as a pdf that you can print and take to an interview with you to help you stay organized.
How to find a Nanny
If you’ve read the childcare settings article, you may remember that nannies are one of the most popular childcare options available, especially to families who need care for newborns. Finding a nanny can be a bit more difficult than finding a childcare center, since centers are usually established in the community.
Start your nanny search early. The first, and usually best place to start your search for a nanny, is by asking your family, friends, and co-workers for any leads. Often families who employ a nanny do so for a finite amount of time, and know when they plan to either move to a childcare center or a school. Since great nannies are coveted, hearing about an upcoming availability from a reference that you trust is a wonderful way to scoop up the nanny before he/she goes to the open nanny market! In addition, many nannies are networked together with other nannies, and asking an employed nanny to talk to her friends may provide another lead. It can be surprising how much “word of mouth” really plays into finding a great nanny.
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If you are short on contacts who may know nannies you might consider attending mom-to-mom meetings such as Le Leche Leauge, or a local chapter of the Holistic Moms Network. Large places of worship often offer mom’s meetings open to non-members. This can be another way to connect with families who may have prospects. Introduce yourself and let everyone know you are searching for a nanny. Share your email, and ask them to be in touch if they hear of any leads.
If asking your friends, family, and acquaintances has failed, do not despair! In the current age of technology, multiple on-line avenues exist for the sole purpose of finding childcare employment. The two major websites are Care.com (use code 30SAVESM to save 20%!) and Sittercity. Both of these sites allow parents to search for childcare providers by need and permit childcare providers to post their own applications. Signing up is generally free (small fees may exist for a job posting, to see whether a care provider is background-checked, etc). If you’re in the market for a nanny, posting an “opening” with your needs and requirements can yield many potential results. In addition, searching through the available profiles can help you find a great match as well.
In addition to these “care sites”, many families have success with craigslist postings, or postings in the local newspapers or college/university papers and job boards. Advertising your need in local publications can also give you some really good finds.
Once you’ve found a few care providers of interest, it’s time to get to meeting and interviewing these folks. I always suggest meeting individuals in a neutral place (like a local coffee shop), and leaving your child at home (if at all possible). There is no real need for your potential care provider or your child to meet each other at the initial interview (that comes later!), and this will permit you to focus on asking the important list of questions you will undoubtedly have brought with you. This part is kind of like dating, in a sense. You will spend somewhere between 15-30 minutes or so asking questions about experience, availability, transportation, values, salary, expectations, etc. (See the Childcare Interview Questions planning guide for more.) Go with your gut during these meetings! If something doesn’t seem to be right, it probably isn’t. Remember, a nanny will spend time in your home, interacting with you and your child, and it is important that you get along and feel comfortable together.
Once you’ve found your potential candidate, invite them to your home for a “trial” day. Show your perspective nanny around, introduce your child to him/her, and make sure that there’s ample time to watch your future nanny interact with your baby. Notice how he/she plays with your child, and notice how your child reacts. Some children are more apprehensive with new folks, but watching from a close-distance can give you a good sense. If things are going well, step out of the room for a couple of minutes. I like to pop in and out, unannounced, so that I can see the interactions without anyone feeling like they’re on display. Again, trust your intuition! If you feel comfortable and your child seems happy, then it’s a good match.
Don’t forget the details! Nanny taxes, benefits, etc.
There are also many websites that can help you calculate nanny gross pay, taxes, and benefits if you wish to provide these options. Care.com or 4nannytaxes are two. Deciding whether or not to provide benefits, etc is a personal choice. If you plan to abide by the law, then it’s a must to write a formal contract that takes into account gross pay, tax deductions, benefits, paid vacation time, etc.
How to find a Childcare/Daycare Center
If you want to find a childcare center because you’ve decided that this type of care is the right fit for your family’s childcare needs, start by asking around. Ask friends with children or family members where they send their children for childcare. Look in the local papers and listings for centers in your area. A simple google search of “childcare centers in your town” can generate a large list of potential centers. Look for licensed and registered centers. This means that the individuals working at the centers are background-checked, and the center has a certified curriculum to follow.
Once you’ve identified the centers that pique your interest, go and visit! Most centers have open visitation, and that is a good thing! You’ll be able to get a guided tour during regular daytime hours. This allows you to see the kids in their element. Important things to look for are: the happiness of the children, a low ratio of providers to children, stimulating toys and activities, a designated (and clean) diapering/changing area with sinks, food/milk storage refrigerators, and engaged staff. Again, go with your gut here! If you feel as though the kids are happy and you have connected with the teachers, then it’s likely to be a good fit for your family.
How to find In-Home Daycare
In-home daycare centers can sometimes be a bit trickier to locate than a traditional childcare center. The best thing to do is walk around your neighborhood and observe. In-home centers tend to have families dropping off their kids around the same general time each morning, and can be easy to spot that way! Also, talking to your neighborhood friends is another way to find an in-home center. The convenience of being able to drop your child off at someone’s home in your neighborhood is always nice. It is important to ask in-home centers if they are licensed. I generally advise that families shy away from unlicensed centers because there are no laws governing their safety. As far as deciding which in-home daycare center works best for you, the same advice applies here as with the other childcare arrangements, go with your gut! Make sure that you feel comfortable, that the children seem happy, and that the in-home daycare provider has a reasonably small number of children and a lot of good hands-on experience.
How to find Co-op Nurseries/Daycare
I’m sure by now you are sensing a theme; talk to your family and friends and ask about co-op nurseries/daycares. In this particular arrangement, it is VERY important that you are comfortable with the center (since you’ll be working there as well!), and can get along with the other enrolled families. This does not mean that you have to be everyone’s best friend, but a common level of shared values and ideals is especially important. After visiting the co-op daycare, make sure that you ask for references from other enrolled families, and spend some time on the phone or meeting these parents in person. Actually, it’s always a good idea to ask for references and get other family’s opinions, but in a co-op setting, these connections are especially important because you will be working with these other parents. In this type of setting, make sure you ask about how to manage your own child potentially being in the classroom with you, while having expectations of having to watch the other children as well. Having realistic expectations and guidance in these situations is very important.
How to find Exchange Sitting
Exchange sitting tends to happen fairly organically. Playgroups that meet regularly tend to be a great place to pull one or two families aside and ask about an exchange sitting arrangement. In this situation, you likely know the family fairly well, and you know their child. Offering to watch their child for a couple of hours per week in exchange for the same favor returned can be fairly simple. When entering into exchange sitting, make sure that all expectations are laid-out at the beginning, and make sure that everyone agrees to be on the same page. There’s nothing worse than expecting an exchange and ending up with a one-sided situation!
How to work out Extended Family Member Childcare
Like exchange sitting, childcare provided by an extended family member often occurs naturally. Many families have a grandparent or another relative watch their child one or more days per week. Often, there is no expectation of monetary compensation, though this is not always true and it is essential that you communicate clearly with one another and make sure everyone is comfortable with the financial picture. Family care is a great opportunity for bonding with extended family members. Here, like in exchange sitting, make sure that expectations are openly discussed at the outset of the arrangement. Even if your family member is only watching your baby a few hours here and there, it is important for everyone to be on the same page when it comes to schedules, feeding, sleep, etc.
How to find an occasional Babysitter
When searching for an occasional babysitter, you are usually looking for someone who will allow you to run errands without your child, make it to a doctor’s appointment, or better yet, enjoy a night out with your partner. Finding a sitter to watch your child on a random and occasional-need basis can be tricky. The inconsistency of an irregular schedule can sometimes be a challenge. Again, start by asking family members or friends if they know of someone. If that isn’t fruitful, and if your child is in another childcare setting (like a center), ask the teachers if they sit outside of center hours. Many childcare center teachers do sit on nights, weekends, and holidays, and the added bonus is that you already know them and they know your child well!
If you haven’t found a babysitter by asking the people you already know, it’s time to get a bit more creative. Babysitters may advertise in local publications, or may put up signs in local kids activity centers (a swim school, community center, etc). Many colleges and universities, especially schools of education and nursing schools, will send out an email to their students advertising a local family looking for a childcare provider. Also, you can advertise in local publications and college/university papers as well. Something very simple like “Local family looking for minimal or occasional babysitting. Experience a must…” is all you need to get the ball rolling. Don’t be afraid to ask people you meet and who seem to bond well with your children if they babysit. Sometimes just working up the courage to ask is all that is standing between you and a dinner out with your partner!
Although finding childcare can seem like a daunting task, it’s a necessity for all parents. Trust your gut, work at finding your provider as you would a job, and take a deep breath! Remember, as with most things, the key to a happy child, is a happy family, which means that you also need to take a bit of time for yourself here and there!
Get Ready! Look at the Childcare Interview Questions Planning Guide.