Posted by: Roseann Murphy | December 7, 2010

Finding The Right Child Care Fit

Searching for the special person to care for your child is one area of parenthood that we are never quite prepared for.  The qualities families look for are very personal, so each family’s search is very individualized.    To take some of the stress out of the process we thought we might walk you through a personalized tour of the various possibilities available and address your concerns as we go. We will do our best to use our experience to help inspire you in your quest to find a warm and welcoming caregiver and environment for your child.
The style of care depends on your family’s needs.    In your search we suggest you focus on the methodologies and philosophies used by the caregiver in whatever child care scenario you chose and make certain they match your own.
In-your-home child care has an advantage. Your child does not have to leave the house early in the morning. He will never have to share the caregiver’s attention. He can stay in his already familiar environment. The downside arises when the caregiver has an emergency and cannot come that day. You must then have back-up waiting in the wings.
In choosing someone to come into your home it is necessary to make the distinction between child care professional and house helper.  Are you looking for someone who will be responsible for the day-to-day care of your infant with no other tasks involved?  Or is it your hope that the caregiver can fit household chores around caring for your infant?
Our experience has shown us it is crucial the focus be only on your child.   Although it may seem ridiculous to pay someone to sit while your infant sleeps, asking someone to finish up the dishes, make the beds or mop floors can easily take the focus off the reason they are there — to care for your child.   It is not unusual for an overburdened caregiver to feel it necessary to do things like propping a bottle in bed when there are expectations of double duty.  We feel it is necessary to spotlight this issue because if a parent expects a clean house as they walk in the door, remember, it is difficult to hide dirty dishes or unmade beds, but it is not difficult   to mask the fact that the baby stayed in bed longer than necessary or missed a crucial diaper change or feeding to make time for cleaning.

Although we are very familiar with the intensity of our job as a parent and are constantly amazed   by the energy and organization it takes to care for our children, when looking for an in-home care giver we might easily consider someone who has little or no experience.
Renowned developmental psychologist, Mary Salter Ainsworth (a protégé of John Bowlby) explains the essence of child caring is not merely basic knowledge about children — “caregivers themselves have to acquire a great deal of special knowledge. The assumption they will acquire this knowledge as a consequence of working with infants, or derive it from their own childhood, is not valid. Sophisticated knowledge about child development is knowledge acquired first through study and only secondly by direct experience.” Ainsworth emphasizes basic care is the core requirement of the children and the cornerstone of child care practice.

With the basic business issues taken care of (contract, duties, salary, hours etc), it is of the utmost importance to be able to communicate with your care giver. Your relationship is heart of success.   The caregiver’s time with your child is powerful and important, so you both must share the same ultimate goal.  If she is older and has raised children, the carer may seem unapproachable to a new parent.   The caregiver’s duty is to share her experience to help you feel confident and empowered by her expertise.  If you choose someone with little or no experience, then it is vital your instructions are followed exactly. This is not the situation for experimenting.
Over the years we found the best tool in choosing the right care giving for your children is your intuition… that first instinctive feeling you have when making the choice.  If there is a nagging doubt this is not exactly what you are looking for, the “match” usually does not turn out well.  Many changes in caregivers become a problem with consistency in your child’s life.

Group care includes Small Family Child Care (up to 8 children in some states) Large Family Child Care (up to 14 children in one setting with a more than one caregiver) and State Licensed Child Care Centers include many children of differing ages and many caregivers.  Deciding on group care can be daunting, but with a little research and confidence the end result can be rewarding for you and your child.
Your perfect center may begin with your infant in an individual home/family child care setting.  Entering the caregiver’s living space, you  will come to know their family, meet their children and become an intimate part of a setting that can be your child’s second home for many years to come.
The caregiver must be as interested in you as in your child.  Your philosophical child rearing attitudes must be in sync.  Question the provider and be prepared for the many questions she will have for you..Early childhood education background is an important prerequisite for the caregiver.
Keep in mind the caregiver will be interacting with your child on a very intimate level.  Feeding, diapering, holding, talking to, and helping to learn to sleep.  All these issues have to be taken into account when choosing the right environment.  At Little River School we schedule the first visit when the center is closed.  Parents are entitled to undivided attention.  We want to know exactly what parents are looking for without any distractions.  We want them to focus on the caregivers and the environment…to get a true sense of the environment and the carers. The environment and the caregivers will become a vital part of their family’s life and we want parents to have ample opportunity to get to know us.

We want parents to understand their needs are important to us as their child’s needs.  Without your child present you will have the opportunity to ask questions regarding child caring philosophy and methodology. “Does my child share a bed with anyone else?  If my child is not here one day, does another child sleep in their bed?  What are your policies concerning sick children?  What is the policy if the carer’s child is ill?  What happens if the caregiver is ill?  Do you have back-up?  While asking these questions you can skim the room, notice if the environment is clean –ready for your infant to play.  Pick up toys, are they clean? Ask how she handles two crying babies at one time. Don’t feel embarrassed to look closely at the environment.

While interviewing think about how you are feeling.  Does this person feel right to you; do the answers to your questions feel complete and in-depth?  Does the provider ask you pertinent questions regarding your child?  Will she give you written notes at the end of each day for the first few months?  Is that important to you, make a list before your interview…jot down your most important aspects of child care. If this environment feels right to you, set up an appointment to come back with your child.  In our experience, the next interview should include the parents and the child again after hours.   Your child can be introduced to the caregiver without any interruption.  If she has a child of her own, you can watch the interaction between the three of them.  Observe the provider.  Hopefully, she will begin to interact with slow and careful introductions. Her first interactions with your child will be an indicator of how the caregiver and your child will get along.   The provider has to understand your worries and concerns, you are about to leave your child with a stranger in a home you have never visited. After the visit, go home, think about what you observed,   if it went well, schedule a visit during a time when the children have finished eating and are ready to play and before nap, so you can see what happens during play time.  Fifteen minutes or so will suffice.  Your child can visit with you or you can go alone. It is reasonable to schedule a number of visits just to help your child to transition.  Be respectful of the environment and the children.  Just as you would never want a stranger to pick up your child, be especially careful, not to interfere with the program, play, feeding or sleep during your visit.  Conducting a home business may appear to be a casual endeavor, but the parents involved must treat this small center as a professional environment. The key to success in this environment is the connection, respect and communication that you have with your child’s caregiver.  The philosophy and method of caring has to be in sync with yours.  The communication must be honest and authentic.  If you see something that you question, mention it immediately.  You are your child’s best advocate.
Large Group Centers are complicated in the sense that they have specific rules they must follow and may not be as flexible as a smaller family run environment. It does not make them better or worse, just different.
Major differences may include the philosophy, the number of children and varying caregivers during any given day.  Preliminary visits to the center are much like that of the family child care home.  Arrive with questions, plan to observe without your child, meet with the director and the primary caregiver.  Ask how many caregivers are going to be handling your child. Who is diapering, feeding etc?  Ask the numbers and ages of the children and how they are separated during play. Do children play and sleep in the same room?   You want to make sure that your infant or toddler is with a proper number of adults while you are away. Your instinct plays a significant part in the choice of your center.  Visiting the center a number of times during different hours will give you sense of the way the day works and will help ease your mind.  Watching the program in action will help you to decide if your home philosophy and your center philosophy can work hand in hand, i.e. in the center setting infants spend a good deal of the day in swings and in high chairs.

One thing to remember is that it is very possible that after a few weeks or months, just as you are breathing a sigh of relief that your child has smoothly transitioned to a new environment, they begin to act as if they are in a hostile environment by crying, clinging, not eating or not sleeping. Even in the best of settings, children can seem as though they are adjusting, but look a little “out of it,” shut-down or disengaged. Such behavior is not completely unexpected. Sir Richard Bowlby spoke at the 2010 RIE Conference and addressed babies “disassociating” when they are extremely uncomfortable (too uncomfortable to even cry) and feel helpless to do anything about it. New environments and a series of new people will cause an infant to disassociate in that manner. An observant caregiver will assure the parent that this is normal behavior during transitional times.  If the upset behavior continues for any extended length of time, talk with the teacher and the director to discuss possible ways to decrease the stress.

One last thought, regarding the setting you choose for your child, it is essential to find the right “partnership”.  The environment has to feel good to the parent and child.  There must be an element of comfort and confidence when leaving your child. The environment must be aesthetically pleasing, the right amount of toys and equipment without chaos.  Think of yourself in this setting.  Can you work all day if you were in this setting?  Put yourself in your child’s place and that will help in your decision making.
The basic tenets of the Magda Gerber and Emmi Pikler methods revolve around consistency, continuity and respect.   A successful relationship is based not only on respect for your infant and their needs, but a mutual respect between you, the parent, and the caregiver with whom you have chosen to share this very important job.

Post by: Roseann Murphy

The professional child care careers of Roseann Murphy and Magdalena Palencia include “in-your-home child care”, teachers and directors of   small and large child care facilities.  In addition to work in the day-to-day care of children, their experience includes resource and referral for parents looking for child care.


  1. When you look at the child in the cannot help but notice the joy and excitement on his face. THe photo was not staged…he was not placed in that position…..
    Look for the next blog…… Magdalena and I will explain exactly why he is feeling such infectious joy!!
    This photo brings back many wonderful memories of Little River School and the extraordinary environment we shared with so many children! We are so grateful to share these wonderful moments with you!!


  2. The point made concerning hiring a child care professional versus a house helper/child care professional combination is a very important one. Thank you for stressing how important it is that the child come first. Great Article!


  3. As Patt says your article talks about situations that are rarely address when speaking of child care. The description of different options for child care is clear and reflects a profound knowledge

    This a good source of information for everybody who has a child.


  4. Roseann and Magdalena –

    I remember how what a process it was finding the right place for Kelsey to go when I started back to work. I interviewed a good 20 schools and day cares. The information was overwhelming and mainly I trusted my gut. The minute I walked into Malibu Infant Toddler it felt right. Roseann immediately spoke to Kelsey, looked her in the eyes, told her she was welcome to explore and play and off Kelsey went. Other places were more concerned with selling me, explaining the rules to me. Many had barely spoke to Kel. The phrase above about trusting your instinct resonated with me – trust and partnership.


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