Choosing a daycare provider can be stressful. Just ask Nancy Holtzman, vice president of clinical content and e-learning at Isis Parenting, the nationís largest provider of prenatal and early parenting education. Holtzman often coaches parents on maternity leave about transitioning back to work, and that includes choosing a daycare. Boston-area parents in the market for a daycare may be even more on edge after recent news about the Wakefield childcare provider accused of child sexual abuse. Boston.com Moms talked to Holtzman about what parents should look for in a daycare provider, how parents can find out about licensing information, and what should be a red flag during a search. (Pictured below: Holtzman with a baby from Isis Parenting.)
Boston.com Moms: Do you come across parents nervous about choosing a daycare?
Holtzman: The entire childcare search process may be more emotionally overwhelming than anticipated. Anxiety over returning to work can be devastating. It can ruin a maternity leave if you let it be all-consuming. If you're returning to work, accept that reality, and find the best care situation for your baby for your peace of mind.
Boston.com Moms: How do you recommend parents tackle the task of finding a daycare? How do they begin?
Holtzman: Really the best way to do it is to begin with your stateís licensing board for child care. In Massachusetts, thatís the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (EEC). Thatís the very first place to begin your search. Because using their online tools, you can select by zip code and then by the type of child care you are seeking, whether itís a family daycare or a larger group facility ... Do you want someone coming into your home to care for your baby? Do you want a family daycare or do you want a childcare center? Thatís how you decide. Thereís pros and cons to all of those arrangements.
Boston.com Moms: In light of the case in Wakefield of the alleged child sexual abuse by child care provider John Burbine, parents may feel especially on edge right now. What is your advice for them?
Holtzman: I think we hear about these stories and itís terrifying for parents to hear them, but the vast majority of licensed family daycare centers are loving, nurturing, supportive places for babies and toddlers. You have to go with your gut, do your diligence, and make the best choices that feel right to you at the time.
Boston.com Moms: The Burbines were reportedly operating an unlicensed daycare. How can parents make sure a daycare is licensed?
Holtzman: Thatís easy. Start your search through the EEC in Massachusetts. It will only provide you with currently licensed facilities. Then when youíre honing in on your choice, you also can check to see if there have been any complaints filed.
Boston.com Moms: Please tell us about unlicensed daycares.
Holtzman: Somebody operating an unlicensed family daycare to me is a red flag ... But I want to stress that licensure, in my opinion, is only the basic entry level credential to look for. So if a family daycare isnít licensed, right there I would just cross it off the list. But just because it is licensed does not ensure a particular level of high quality.
Boston.com Moms: What does having a license mean?
Holtzman: [A license] is a basic credential. It assures that thereís adequate space, that itís free of bugs and rats and animal droppings, itís child proofed, there are developmentally appropriate toys available, the provider has basic child development, nutrition, and first aid training, there's outdoor space available ... If [a daycare] is not licensed, not only would I want to know why, but I donít think Iíd be OK with any answer really.
Boston.com Moms: Should a parent be concerned about high employee turnover in a daycare?
Holtzman: Absolutely. But I think weíre fortunate in the greater Boston area. Many of the larger childcare programs in our area are really high quality ... I think parents in our area may be pleasantly surprised by the educational background, the experience, nurturing, the skill, and the longevity of many of the teachers in the infant/toddler rooms.
Boston.com Moms: What else do you feel is important when it comes to choosing a daycare?
Holtzman: At the very very top of my list is the parent's gut feel ... Youíll never find the absolute perfect scenario. There will be something you donít like, whether itís the location, the hours, or something else. But when you get down the basics, do you trust her? Do you like the feel? Do you have faith in the program or the caregiver? Because the other stuff can be worked out.
Boston.com Moms: What should you do if you are unhappy with your daycare? Or if you feel there is something wrong?
Holtzman: Have realistic expectations. And if it doesnít feel right to you, start looking elsewhere. You need to be able to leave your child and go to work and feel confident that your baby is OK. A childcare environment, itís not a parking lot for babies. It provides social and cognitive and physical interaction all day long. In your absence you need to feel trust that your baby is getting all of the things that you would provide if you were there.
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Kristi Palma, Boston.com Moms producer, is the mom of a kindergartner and a preschooler. She is a writer who enjoys cooking her grandmother's Italian recipes (when her son isn't launching paper airplanes into them). Follow her on Twitter @kristipalma.