Whether you’re looking for child care for your soon-to-be-born infant or you’re planning to head back to work soon and need someone to watch your older kids, picking the best form of child care can be a nerve-racking experience at the best of times. Should you look for a day care or hire a live-in nanny or au pair? What is it going to cost? How can you be sure your child is safe?

Here are a few questions you should ask yourself and a few ways to make choosing the perfect type of child care a little bit easier.

What Options Are Available?

The options that are available for child care will depend on a few variables, such as the age of your child or children, your location and your budget.

You’re probably already familiar with the different types of care, even if you don’t realize it yourself. In general, you’ve got these options to choose from:

  1. Day care center: These are pretty standard out-of-the-home child care setups, are commonly available for kids of all ages and are regulated fairly strictly by the state to ensure each child is safe.
  2. Home day care: Basically the same concept as the day care center, only this form of child care is run out of someone’s home. While they might be more convenient and less expensive than traditional day care, the regulations regarding these types of child care are much less strict.
  3. Nanny: These people make a career out of caring for children, and usually work in one of two ways — either they live in the home with the children or they commute to the home for working hours.
  4. Au pair: This is a unique form of child care that isn’t often mentioned. Au pairs are young men or women who travel to America on work visas to care for children. In addition to caring for children, they can also do laundry and prepare meals in your home.

What kind of child care are you looking for? Are you looking for someone to come to your home to care for your children, or somewhere you can drop them off on your way to work? Are you interested in hiring an au pair from another country to help introduce your children to new cultures and languages?

What Questions Should I Be Asking?

 What types of questions should you be asking when you’re choosing a day care for your children? The more questions you can think to ask, the better, and any child care businesses that refuse to answer your questions should be avoided.

A few sample questions to take with you might include:

  • What sort of experience do you have with child care? A lack of experience isn’t always a deal-breaker, but if you’ve got a choice between someone has no experience and someone who has years of experience, the latter is probably the best choice.
  • How long have you been working with children? This is a pretty straightforward question.
  • Do you have any child care credentials? Degrees in early childhood education are a plus. Again, this is not a deal-breaker but is definitely a good thing to have.
  • Is everyone at the daycare Red Cross certified for first aid and CPR? You want at least one person there at all times that is certified for both CPR and first aid. They may never need it, but it’s essential training to have nonetheless.
  • What is the procedure in case of an emergency? Will they call you immediately or wait until you’ve come to pick up your children to let you know there was a problem?
  • What is the ratio of children to adults? Do they follow the standards set by the laws in your state?

Then there are always the money-related questions:

  • What do you charge for your services?
  • When is payment expected or due?
  • Are there any penalties I should be aware of, such as late fees or charges for late pickup or early drop off?

Once you’ve gotten the serious questions out of the way, you can more onto the more fun ones, like:

  • What sort of activities will my child be enjoying during the day?
  • Do you serve meals/snacks or will I have to provide my own?
  • How much physical activity will they be getting during the day?
  • Do you offer pickup or drop-off services for school-aged children and if so, what schools will you visit?

Most of these questions work well for all types of child care, but there are some additional things you should consider if you’re choosing to hire a nanny or an au pair instead of utilizing traditional child care. For au pairs, especially, you should always discuss child care expectations before agreeing to a contract. Will they be expected to be on call 24 hours a day, or will there be specific working hours you and they both agree to adhere to?

Trust Your Instincts

The most important thing to remember when choosing any type of care for your children is to trust those parental instincts. They may not be quite like a Spidey-sense, but they’re a great tool for judging a situation and making the right decision.

Even if a day care has all the right answers and tells you what you want to hear, if something feels wrong in your gut, it probably is. You’re instincts are there for a reason, so use them.

Final Thoughts

No matter what type of child care you choose, it’s essential to make sure you do your research before you commit to anything. A quick Google search can tell you a lot about your choices, especially if you decide to utilize a more traditional style of day care. Take the name of the facility and plug it into Google with words like reviews or complaints plugged in after them to see what other people think. You might find some skeletons in their closets that make you pick a different day care.

Your child care needs will likely change as your children get older, but the basic system remains the same: Ask tons of questions, choose wisely and make sure you listen to your instincts before you make your final decision.