When Dr. Anita Chandra met her now-regular babysitter nine years
ago, her first child was 3 months old. Interested in finding
someone with similar family and religious values, Chandra says she
was happy when the sitter brought her own daughter to the
interview. "This is a family relationship," she says. "And I felt
like we were really interviewing family background, not just an
Chandra, who now has four children, says her family "struck
gold" with their sitter, but sometimes it's not that easy for new
parents. Sixty-two percent of Illinois families with children 5 and
under are using some type of regular child care and about 40
percent of them are there more than 30 hours per week. Yet
selecting the right option can be daunting.
Navigating the initial interview is an important step to
assuring your baby is in a child care arrangement that's
comfortable for parents, too.
Start by interviewing or visiting at least three of each of the
child care options you are considering, whether this includes day
cares, in-home facilities or nannies, says Kanella Maniatis, a
child care consultant for the Illinois Action for Children, a
nonprofit organization that advocates for quality child care and
When interviewing a potential nanny, Chandra, who is a
pediatrician with Northwestern Memorial Physician's Group and on
staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, suggests
starting with some questions about the person's experience. Ask
about activities that they've done with children in the past, even
their own, she says. Since the new nanny will be filling in when
you can't be there, Chandra suggests asking, "Will they be doing
the things you would do?"
Safety is another key issue to bring up during this first
interview, Chandra says. She suggests parents ask about knowledge
of infant care and, specifically, infant CPR training. You may also
want to check in on the potential nanny's feelings about sick
children or allergies. "You want to make sure they feel comfortable
administering medication and following your directions," she
Other questions that are important to ask are whether or not he
or she feels comfortable cooking, doing laundry or driving. You may
also want to touch base on the provider's personal health to make
sure sick days will be minimal and that communicable diseases won't
spread around the house. Chandra suggests watching out for sitters
who are uncomfortable with parents being in the house or someone
who is too pushy, taking on an "I know best" attitude. "That's
going to set up for an uncomfortable environment," she says.
Another option for new parents to consider is group child care
outside of the home, like a day care center. For these types of
programs, start by interviewing the director of the center, as well
as the teacher or assistant who will be in the room with your
child, says Maniatis.
Like choosing a nanny, it's helpful to begin by asking each of
these people about their experiences in the field. Maniatis'
organization provides a list of suggested questions for new parents
to ask, including topics like educational background, specialized
child care training, CPR and First Aid training and amount of time
spent with this center in particular.
Also, make sure that the center is licensed by the state and, if
possible, accredited by the National Association for the Education
of Young Children. "This is definitely an indicator of quality,"
After establishing these basics, Maniatis tells parents to ask
about the program itself, such as the fees, days off (for backup
purposes), policies and procedures (like sick children, unannounced
visits, end of the day pick-up) and curriculum.
Ask specifically about babies, as many centers don't accept
children before they are 2 and assure that they don't just let
infants sleep all day. Instead, staff should actively engage them
in activities that help with development, like vision and
interaction. "Infants take more attention and time," Maniatis
When approaching new centers, Maniatis tells parents to split
their needs into two lists-an A-list, or things that they cannot
negotiate on, and a B-list, or things that would be a bonus. That
way, parents only consider centers that comply with the A-list and
use the B-list to decide between two great programs. For instance,
an A-list item may be a minimum number of years of experience,
while a B-list item may be knowledge of a second language. Maniatis
also says to ask questions about the center's safety and to take
time to observe it for yourself. "Get on the level of the children
where they will experience the environment," she says.
Maniatis cautions against a few red flags that may come up
during interviews and the first few weeks your baby is at a new
facility. If children are getting hurt often or if the center
doesn't allow parents to drop in during the day, proceed with
For a complete list of suggested questions or to speak with a
child care specialist, contact Illinois Action for Children at
(312) 823-1100 or ask your pediatrician. Oftentimes, though, you
know best what will work for your baby. "We definitely tell them to
go number one with their gut feeling," Maniatis says. "If something
doesn't feel good, it's probably not."
Laura Schocker is a Chicago Parent intern.
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