In fact, whether or not a child has the proper experiences in those early years will have a lifelong impact on academics, social/emotional and physical health, career success, and even earnings. Quality early care and education means your child is more likely to graduate from high school on time and attend college… and less likely to engage in risky behavior.
It may be hard for some to believe that children are “born learning,” but in truth every experience helps shape their future. For instance: when infants are spoken to, or watch/listen to a mobile, and when toddlers play with sand or water at a sensory table or have conversations with caregivers - brain cell connections, called synapses, are created. Synapses that are strengthened through repetition become permanent. The synapses that are not "stimulated" are pruned away. Whether home with parents or in a child care setting, it’s critical that little ones engage in warm, loving interactions with caregivers, and talk, sing, read, play and explore objects and physical space.
So, what is “quality” care?
It means that your child is SAFE in a well-supervised, hazard-free setting; LEARNING through a wide variety of play-based experiences; HEALTHY thanks to nutritious foods, outdoor play and a clean environment; and HAPPY in a friendly, enjoyable setting staffed with warm, well-trained, responsive adults.
To find quality care, start early: 2 months before you’ll need it, if possible. But don’t panic if you need to make a change on short notice, either. There are a lot of options available in Westchester.
First, consider your family’s specific needs and priorities:
- What days and hours you need coverage
- If you prefer child care near your home or office
- If your child may need medication administered by the provider
- How much can you afford to pay
- Whether you need care near public transportation or if your child requires transportation to/from care
Think about your child’s specific personality: is s/he comfortable in large or small group settings, very physically active, creative, in need of any special attention and services? With that in mind, consider your own preferences. What qualities in a caregiver are most important to you?
To choose a child care provider, first understand that in New York State there are four types of child care settings regulated by the Office for Children and Family Services (OCFS). The Council recommends parents choose one of these:
- Child Care Centers – for children ages 6 weeks to 12 years of age in a non-residential setting
- School Age Programs – for children 5 to 12 years old during out-of-school hours
- Family Child Care – for children ages 6 weeks to 12 years of age, in a residential setting
- Group Family Child Care – similar to family child care; more children may be enrolled when an additional caregiver is present
These and additional options can be reviewed in more detail the Council’s website.
Now you’re ready to make a list of potential providers. The Council offers free comprehensive child care referral services for Westchester parents, in English and Spanish. Call (914) 761-3456 x140 to speak directly to a Child Care Specialist who can answer your questions and conduct a database search. They can also help you check whether or not a provider has any history of violations, and talk with you about ways to pay for care, including whether you qualify for a public child care subsidy. Alternatively, you can visit www.childcarewestchester.org/services/parents/find-care to access the online database 24/7 or submit an electronic form to request information.
Once you’ve identified a few potentials, call and ask some basic questions:
- Is there an opening for my child?
- What is the daily program/routine?
- Does the provider follow a curriculum?
- What are the qualifications (education and experience) of the providers?
- Is there much staff turnover?
- How many children does the provider care for/what is the class size?
- What are the ages of the children in the group?
- What are the fees, and what do they include?
- What are the hours? What happens on holidays and vacation days?
- Is the provider accredited by a national organization?
Next, you should visit the providers you are most interested in, to get a feeling for each in person. We recommend you visit at least three, allow 30-45 minutes per visit, and go at a time when children are present so you can observe how staff interact with them.
Before you go, visit http://childcarewestchester.org/services/parents/how-to-choose to download our free checklists to bring with you.
As you’re looking, trust your instincts! If you speak or visit with one that seems “off,” don’t be afraid to walk away. Here are some specific things to watch out for:
If the provider…
- doesn’t want you to visit or answer specific questions about the program
- seems angry, frustrated or overwhelmed by the children
- seems inattentive or uninvolved
If the environment…
- appears dirty or unsafe
- appears to use televisions, playpens or walkers to excess
- has limited or inaccessible materials
After your visit(s), feel free to call the Council again to discuss your findings and options. Remember – quality early care and education can set the stage for your child’s entire life, and our expertise and resources can help you make the best decision for your child and family.
The Child Care Council of Westchester is a private nonprofit resource organization that champions the healthy development of children, families and communities by promoting quality early care and education.
A unique, “one stop” agency for child care, the Council offers parent referrals, training, information, technical assistance, reports on the industry, and public education for parents, child care programs, governmental organizations and the business community.
Since its inception in 1968, the Council has grown to become the premier authority on child care services throughout Westchester County. The Council recently attained Quality Assurance, establishing it as one of the nation’s leading Child Care Resource and Referral agencies (CCR&Rs). The national recognition was awarded by Child Care Aware® of America.
Child Care Council of Westchester, Inc.
313 Central Park Avenue
Scarsdale, New York 10583
Phone: (914) 761-3456
Toll-Free: 1 (844) 387-7525