Interviewing a Daycare Provider Isn't Just Asking Questions
Entrusting your child's care to another person is no easy task, and shouldn't be taken lightly. First, be sure to interview the provider briefly over the phone. Not only can you rule out weather or not you want to meet with them, or if they fit into your budget, but you can get a feeling on how they balance a phone interruption with caring for children. It's best to set up an interview in person to meet with the provider, and also to go to the interview prepared. There are some things you can do to make sure your interview is successful enough to aid you in the decision.
In the initial phone conversation, you want to be sure to ask qualifying questions. These are designed to rule out any providers that are out of your price range, or who have a program that you don't agree with. Some questions to ask over the phone are:
- Are you registered?
- Are your CPR and First Aid Certified?
- Do you have any openings?
- What are your rates?
- What are your hours of business?
- Do you transport to and from school?
- Do you have a current driver's license, insurance, and good driving record?
- What is your vacation and sick time policy?
- How many children do you care for, and what are their ages?
- What experience do you have?
- Do you have any pets?
- Do you smoke?
In the days before the interview, drive by the address. Curb appeal is a major factor on weather or not you're going to walk in the door on interview day. If the outside of the home looks nice, chances are the provider takes pride in their business.
Search the Internet for the provider's name. Technology has made it possible for you to get to know almost anyone without even meeting them. If you don't find anything about the provider either way, that doesn't mean they aren't good at what they do. It just means no one has had anything to say about it.
Spend some time thinking of questions to ask the provider. You don't want to get to the end of the interview, and have that awkward moment when the provider asks if you have any questions, and all you have to say is, "No, I think you answered them all." You need at least three good questions, but more is better. If a spouse is available, take them to the interview with you. Your child is your most precious asset. You want to make sure you're leaving them with the best possible fit. Some sample questions are:
- What is your experience?
- Why did you choose this profession?
- How would you soothe a crying baby?
- What is your discipline policy?
- What training certificates can I see?
- What organizations do you belong to?
- What are your emergency procedures?
- Is it alright for parents to drop-in for a visit?
- What is a typical day like?
- Are you part of the food program, and what is a typical meal like?
- How much time in a year will I need to find back-up care?
- What is your turnover like?
- What activities would my child be doing?
- Do you take field trips, and where?
- What type of education do you provide, such as tutoring, or Pre-K?
- Will our communication about my child be good, and will we be able to stay on the same page as issues arise?
- What if I don't agree with something you do, how should I handle that?
- What are your rules?
- Can I see the areas my child will be playing in?
- Where will my child nap?
- What safety precautions have you taken?
- Will there ever be anyone else caring for my children?
- Will there be other teens or adults in the home?
- Can I see your contract, handbook, and any other policies you may have?
- Do you have references? Are any of them parents of children that are or were in your care?
- What questions do you have for me?
Take notes on the provider's answers so you can use them for comparison after you've met with more than one. Until you meet with a few different providers, you really won't get a sense of all the things you want in your child's program, so don't sign a contract at the interview. A provider will create a sense of urgency for you to take the spot, but you cannot make the decision based on how quickly a spot will be filled, or how many interviews they have for that spot. Make sure you ask age specific questions, and include questions about any special needs your child may have.
Pay attention to your gut. Do you like this person? Is the provider making an attempt to connect with your child? Are the floors clean? Are the toys clean and in good repair? Do you feel the provider is answering your questions honestly? Does there appear to be a good balance with managing a business and caring for the children? Is the environment safe, secure, and a healthy place for children to blossom? Take notes on anything you see or feel that would be a contributing factor.
After the interview, read carefully over your notes. Don't hesitate to call the provider to clarify anything that doesn't make sense. Discuss your feelings with you spouse. Let a day pass, and choose a question from your list. Call the provider and ask the question again. Do you get the same answer? It's a good way to weed out providers who say what they think you want to hear to your face. Be sure to call the provider's references. Ask what they like best about the provider's program. Also, ask what they would change about it. An honest reference would have something to say, even if it's as small as ‘I wish she'd take more time for herself.' Make sure to call them all, and take notes on the conversation you had with each one.
Once you've interviewed several providers, and weeded out any that won't work for you, set up hour play dates with the providers left on your list. Sit back with a cup of coffee and watch your child interact with the group of children at each provider's house for the first half hour. Notice the flow of one activity to the other. Step out for fifteen or twenty minutes to see how your child reacts with you gone. Note that with very small children, they will scream even in the best provider's hands once mom walks out of the house. What is your child doing when you come back? Talk to the provider about how your child did while you were gone.
Now that you've had a series of interviews and play dates, it's time to choose the provider that will best fit your needs. Carefully review your notes on the providers you have left. Which one made you feel the most comfortable? Which one was the most understanding of your process? If you need to set up a second interview with the remaining choices, do so. Ask to come during a meal, so you can see what it will be like for your child. At this point, I'm sure all of the providers but the one that will fit best into your child's life will have been weeded out.
Knowing that you took all of the time you needed to find the right childcare provider for your child will give you a sense of calmness, safety, and you'll feel less guilty when the day comes that you need to send your child do daycare. If you are methodical, and don't jump the gun, you can be sure that your little one will be in good hands. Remember, interviewing a daycare provider isn't just asking questions.