Day care centersDay care centers, as well as preschools, typically are institutional settings similar to elementary schools. Often, children are grouped in classroom-type arrangements according to age, with one or more teachers or aides. Each class usually will follow a lesson plan similar to those used in grade schools. These school-like surroundings are one of the main differences from family day care.
Day Care Centers
Day care centers provide supervision to children in a larger group environment during set hours. A typical center might remain open from 6:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, although there are any number of variations on opening hours for different facilities. Some programs provide care into the evening, overnight, or on weekends.
Another major advantage to choosing a day care center is that centers are able to remain open if one of the employees is ill. In a family day care setting, discussed in Family Day Care, there may only be one caregiver, forcing the need to make other arrangements if the caregiver is sick. Absent a facility-wide outbreak of an illness, a day care center can be relied upon to remain open on all of its regular business days.
Day care centers also are seen by some as safer than family day care or in-home situations, mainly because of the number of people present in the facility. With a greater number of staff, not to mention all of the parents coming and going throughout the day, it is less likely that a situation of abuse or neglect toward any child would occur without anyone noticing.
On the flip side, there are several disadvantages with day care centers, mainly related to the number of staff members and the number of children. The biggest problem has to do with children-to-staff ratios. Higher numbers of children per staff member generally correlates with lower quality of care. Unfortunately, in many cases, day care center staff is underpaid, leading to unfilled positions and high turnover. This results in higher children-to-staff ratios than are desirable, and possibly to less stability in the care that the children receive.
The sheer number of children in day care centers is also seen as a disadvantage by many parents. If there are four, five, or even more rooms, even if there are fewer than ten children per room, there are far more children present than there would be in a family day care setting. More children means more germs, and of course, a greater chance that your child will come home with a nasty cold, strep throat, or worse.
Another potential sticking point for families is the philosophy of the individual program. Sometimes, day care centers tend to be play-based rather than educationally focused. This is seen as a deficiency by some parents, who prefer that their children are provided with scholastic experiences when in childcare situations. At the same time, there are plenty of day care centers that provide an actual curriculum for enrolled children. Check for National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accreditation, which is discussed in Evaluating Out-of-Home Childcare. If the facility is accredited, it has a curriculum that meets NAEYC standards.
Locating Day Care Centers
Probably the best starting place in a search for a day care center is through your local Child Care Resource and Referral agency (CCRR). CCRRs are organizations that assist working parents in finding quality childcare. They also help train new day care providers so there are more childcare openings available for children of working parents. The National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) is the nationwide network of local CCRRs and can provide a great deal of useful information for parents with questions pertaining to their childcare search. (Appendix B provides a list of all local CCRRs operating in the country at the time of writing.)
Typically, a CCRR will charge a small fee for a list of local day care centers and family day care homes. For that fee, you will be able to utilize the CCRR's services for a certain time period, such as six months. This is useful in case you try a day care situation, and it ends up not working out. You can receive an updated listing in order to locate a new provider. For lower-income families, the fee may be either waived or prorated on a sliding scale according to household income. A CCRR can tell you which programs are accredited, the age ranges of children that each program accepts, and the operating hours of each.