Friday, November 02, 2007

Picking a child care centre

After last night's rage against For-Profit Child Care Corporations, I thought I should write a quick post with some advice for parents looking for a child care centre for the first time.

When I first fell pregnant with Dante, someone very wise gave me advice to put my name down for care straight away. I duly did as advised, choosing the centres closest to my work and then promptly forgot about it, being distracted by pregnancy and then looking after a newborn. However, as the time to go back to work loomed closer, I realised that I probably wouldn't get a spot in that very busy child care centre and I started looking around for other places. In the end I put my name down at seven centres. Only one was able to provide me with two days a week from when Dante was seven months old.

I was so happy to get a spot in a child care centre at all that I didn't really think too much about the QUALITY of the place. It was hard enough leaving my first born son to strangers, let alone think of government regulations and cost.

However, over the time I was there I became more and more uneasy about the place. They weren't very friendly to me, just knowing me as "Dante's mum". I didn't get much feedback from the carers. Whenever I was in the centre I felt like I was being rushed out and felt unwelcome. There were always kids crying, kids with dirty faces, kids with runny, dirty noses. Once when I was dropping Dante off, I heard a child screaming in the cot room for the entire twenty minutes without anyone going in to check on him, and I heard the carers remark, "That kid needs to go to Tresillian", as if that was some excuse for their slackness. I also believe that they had way too many kids compared to the number of carers in the room.

At the time I really didn't think about these incidences too much. I did, however, feel unhappy about these two things:

1. They gave Dante a dummy (someone elses!) to keep him quiet (which we didn't finally do away with until he was almost four); and

2. They gave Dante infant formula (I was breastfeeding him), even though I had provided them with expressed breastmilk.

Both of these were without my permission. They didn't call me beforehand or anything. Just did it and told me about it when I went to pick him up.

This was a commercially run centre. Probably why they were so eager to get my business when I rang. I didn't realise how dodgy they were until I finally got a spot in my preferred centre when Dante was eleven months old.

The difference was remarkable!

I felt welcomed. The carers made the effort to learn my name straight away. They wanted me to stay with Dante as long as possible to help settle him in. The kids were always happy and clean-faced. It seemed like there were a billion carers there for the children (it just happened that some kids were away, so the room actually had about a 1:2 or 1:3 ratio that first week. Wonderful!).

I could not believe how different the two centres were run. The first was for-profit. The second was run by a not-for-profit organisation. The fees were comparable, but the quality of the care was vastly different.

And so, I say to you,


I know it's a difficult time, when you have to return to work (I'm feeling the jitters even now), but it makes a huge difference to your child's ability to settle in if you are at a place where you, the parent, feel comfortable.

We have now been with the same centre for six years and the association will continue for at least another three years. We are truly happy there and even though there have been a few times when things haven't been 100% (we had a bit of a staff turnover issue) we still love the centre and all their staff. I always recommend it to everyone I know and next year 60% of my parents' grandchildren will be attending this centre!

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