The importance of safe, loving, quality child care can never be underestimated. Placing your infant, toddler, preschooler, or older child in the care of someone outside your immediate family may feel like one of the most difficult tasks facing a new parent. Even if you or a partner plan to stay home to care for your child, there may be times when you’ll need back up care, for instance: if the primary carer falls ill or for a date night or adults-only office party or dinner invitation. If you work from home, the services of a sitter or mother’s helper can also greatly reduce the stress of juggling a major project deadline while caring for a fussing baby.

Here are some simple tips to consider when you, or you and your partner are ready to begin the search for child care.

Talk to other local parents about their experiences with different options. Thanks to the web, parents can more easily share information, recommendations, and network with other moms and dads. Tap into the collective wisdom and experience of other parents who have “been there and done that”. The basics to compare when beginning your search include: years of experience, references, cpr certification, hourly rate, availability, proximity to your work or home, live-in care, or come and go, or drop-off. Other equally important points to ask about are a caregiver(s) discipline style/philosophy of care.

The editors of Parents magazine suggest ways to ensure a caregiver is a good fit and a safe and skilled professional in their book, “It Worked for Me”

“Begin with a trial period. Check in. Drop in unannounced and ask friends and family members to do the same. Observe your child. Does she seem happy, clean, alert when you reunite?… Observe your sitter. What’s her mood at the end of the day? Does she seem relaxed or harried? Is she anxious to leave or eager to fill you in on the day’s events? ..”’

Be open minded to different possibilities of care if necessary.

Consider sharing the cost of a sitter with another family. If your needs are part-time sitting only, start a child care exchange among other parents who also work part-time. Local child care referral organizations can offer lists of child care options in your community, such as home day cares who may not advertise widely or rely on word of mouth or community connections.

Know the basic standards for safe group care

If a group day care is an option, look for one that is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children or NAEYC. The NAEYC promotes the highest standards of care for programs that provide care and education to young children.

Here is what the NAEYC recommends parents look for in a child care center or family child care home:

1. Electrical outlets are covered with outlet plugs.

2. Floors are carpeted and free of objects that might cause children to trip. 3. Toys are clean, nontoxic, and large enough that they cannot be swallowed; they have no small or breakable parts.

4. High chairs, changing tables, and strollers are equipped with safety straps; teachers always use the straps.

5. Cribs have no more than 2-3/8 inches of space between slats.

6. A fully stocked first-aid kit is kept on hand.

7. Teachers have been certified in CPR and trained in other emergency procedures.

8. The diaper-changing area is well organized with supplies and extra clothes within easy reach. Also in this area is a sink, stocked with disinfectant, paper towels; and a trash can that opens with a foot pedal.

9. Teachers hold infants with their bodies at an angle when feeding them bottles; children are never left to “feed themselves” from bottles propped on pillows.

Good Communication

Daily journals and updates about your baby or child’s development, activities, feeding schedule and sleep schedule, should be made available and help keep the lines of communication open between parents and caregivers. Many day care centers provide their own log of a child’s activities and daily schedule to parents. In home babysitters can easily log baby’s day using  a pre-printed form of your choice or a notebook you’ve designated. An even easier solution is to log activity digitally using the Baby Connect app for Android or iPhone. It charts everything from diaper changes and feeding times, to playtime activities and naps. Parents can log in to view the day’s data and sitters can easily email or export data directly from the app to parents as well.

To streamline the process of thoroughly researching all of your child care options, consider the services of Saving Grace Chicago lifestyle concierge. As a new mom herself, Grace Keller is pleased to provide this time saving service to new and expectant parents throughout the Chicago area.

-photo credit: cafemama, flickr