With more than 1.8 million children under the age of 14, the state of Georgia had more than 6,600 licensed day care facilities in 2004. Choosing the right one for your child can be a daunting task.
Child welfare agencies, from the Georgia Child Care Council to the National Network for Child Care to The Georgia Child Care Association to Child Care and Parent Services, offer advice on choosing a day care provider. The Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, a division of the state government, also offers online child care licensing reports for each of the state's 159 counties.
While having such information readily at hand makes choosing a child care provider easier, one local pediatric resident physician says the most important thing in choosing a caregiver for your child is to find a center that addresses your child's individual needs.
"To discover this, it is important to start early and research each center," said Dr. Steven Eubanks, president of the Medical College of Georgia Child Advocacy Group. "All searches for child care centers should begin by calling or visiting your local child care resource and referral center."
The local CCR&R is located on Clausen Road in Augusta and can be contacted by calling 736-2122. The center can provide a list of names and locations of child care centers, as well as information regarding complaints and financial assistance programs.
Among questions parents should ask when visiting a child care center are the child-to-adult ratio, the size of each age group, caregiver qualifications, caregiver turnover and facility accreditations.
Recommended child-to-adult ratios are three-to-one for infants through 24 months, according to Eubanks, who added that the smaller the size of each age group, the better.
"Imagine a group of six crying infants with two caregivers versus 15 crying infants with five caregivers," he said.
Also, it is best if caregivers have a degree in early childhood education.
"They are better trained to help your child learn," he said. "Also, are background checks done on caregivers?"
Parents should visit a facility at least twice at two different times of the day before making a final decision, according to Eubanks.
"Bringing your child to at least one of the visits is also important so that you can witness the interaction of the caregivers with your child," he said.
If a facility doesn't have an open-door policy, parents should instantly question why. A red flag should also be raised if a facility has obvious health hazards, such as window blind cords within a child's reach, uncovered electrical outlets, poor playground maintenance and unsanitary conditions. Also, if too much emphasis is placed on following the rules with little room for improvisation, a parent should raise an eyebrow.
"On the opposite end, so should too much chaos," Eubanks said.
Evidence of a high caregiver turnaround also should be questioned.
"What about this center would make a caregiver not want to stay for a longer period of time," Eubanks asked.
Among resources that parents might find useful are Child Care Aware, www.childcareaware.org, and the National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care, www.nrc.uchsc.edu.
"Both of these organizations have checklist sheets that are helpful to use when visiting child care centers," Eubanks said. "Another important resource is your pediatrician, who can supply you with information and handouts about day care, as well."
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