Wednesday, August 19, 2009

You Get What You Pay For

Since I'll be taking 12 weeks of maternity leave, we'll need to find child care for our little one beginning when he's 12 weeks old. Despite the fact that our first visit was with an excellent center and that we are first on their waiting list, the fact that they only accept new children every September means that we'll at least need someone from March to September.

We called and/or interviewed 17 other options -- that's right 17. There was a solid week in there when we had an interview every single night. This experience made me feel so fortunate that Brett and I have the money to pay for top-notch child care. One of the best in-home providers we visited charged $240/week and didn't work Fridays. Brett did some math and figured that she'd be making about 100k per year if she actually worked Fridays. What does $240 buy you? A child care provider with 23 years of experience who is licensed and accredited by the National Association of Family Child Care. Her home was gleaming and kid-friendly as far as the eyes could see. She had pictures of her kids all over the place and holds an annual picnic for all her current and former clients to come back and see "Aunt Rose," which is what she likes the kids to call her. Oh and she makes you a hardbound book every year with pictures of your child's growth and development. (To make the deal even sweeter, she lives exactly two blocks from our house.) The only downside is that she has a long waiting list and she selects off the waiting list based on "which parents she feels she'll work well with." So, yeah, we clearly were the ones being interviewed, not her.

Contrast this with Rita who we visited the next day. At a mere $140/week, she was cheap, probably too cheap. What does $140/week get you? An in-home provider with a puppy, a parrot, and dog dishes on the same floor where children are cared for. She's registered, meaning that the state has no authority to pop in and check things out. She has two very small rooms she keeps the kids in, uses double negatives, and insists that the best way to get kids to read is to force them to watch the same movie repeatedly until they get sick of it. She kept the TV on throughout our interview and warned me not to sit on her beach towel covered sofa because "there's a huge hole in it." I was appalled. I am not even sure I would leave my dog with her for a full day, let alone my child. It made me feel so lucky to be able to afford quality care, but also pained me to imagine the millions of working mothers out there who are working such low-paying jobs that all they can afford is poor quality child care.

To sum it up, here's what I learned...
  • If you are considering an in-home provider, opt for licensed child care. This means that they have signed up to allow the state to drop in unannounced at least once a year and check the safety of their home.
  • Better yet, some of them participate in the state's food program, which means that they can provide free/reduced price meals to low-income children. Since ours won't qualify, we didn't see this as a big selling point, but we learned that participating providers are subjected to three more unannounced visits by the state each year. The more your provider is willing to invite state authorities into their home/center, the better they are.
  • You get what you pay for. I was shocked at the extent to which quality correlates with price. Sure, I'd love to spend $400 less per month on Rita, rather than Rose, but not at the expense of my child's safety and well-being. $400 per month is a small price to pay for the peace of mind that my child is in good hands. If that's the price it takes to help me continue working, it's well worth it.
  • Start early, and I mean early. If you foresee needing child care after your baby's birth, start calling at a point that's almost comically early. I called a year ago for one of the centers that is known for having a long waiting list. I started making the rest of my calls when I was about 16 weeks along.
  • Invest the time to find the best care. I called or interviewed a whopping 17 providers. Ultimately, there are only three or four that we are considering. Most of these, we are on waiting lists and it's still a bit of a crapshoot to see whether we'll get off. At first, 17 seemed like overkill, but given that we were only comfortable with a few of them, I'm glad we looked into so many options.
  • Trust your gut. If you walk into a center or home and feel like something's "off," trust your instinct and don't put your child there. There's likely a good reason for your reaction and you'd never feel comfortable leaving him/her there anyway.
I hope this may help some of you when the time comes to find providers of your own. I know it was something we didn't know anything about just two months ago, but we've really learned a lot.

1 comment:

  1. Oh wow. This is great. I'll definitely keep this post in mind when our turn comes. Thanks so much Jessie!