—Ask for referrals from friends, family and co-workers. And start early, three months in advance if possible.
—Do your homework. Make sure the centers you are looking at are licensed (see below).
—Think about what you want in a day care center — a place for your child to experience socialization, a place for your child to begin learning, or a combination of both?
—Call the centers to make an appointment to drop by. Ask for an appointment while classes are in session so that you can observe the children and the teachers.
—Plan your appointment for the beginning or the end of the day if possible so that you can engage other parents in conversation. Ask what they like or dislike about the place where their child is enrolled. Other parents are generous sharers!
At your appointment
—Look at all areas, both indoors and out — classrooms, common rooms, kitchen, bathrooms, play areas.
—Are the areas clean and free of safety hazards? Are toys and equipment clean and maintained?
—Observe the children at play. Does it gel with what you want for your child?
—Are there adequate supplies — games, toys and books, plus free-form play materials?
—Is every child supervised at all times?
—Double check hours of operation. Ask about extended hour options. Ask about policy — what happens if you are late in picking up your child?
—Ask for a list of public holiday/religious holiday schedules/possible closures.
—What is the center’s policy on snow days?
—If your child requires medication, check to make sure the center is permitted to administer. Not all are.
—Ask about sickness policies. When is a child not permitted to attend the center due to sickness? What is the policy for alerting parents when a child takes ill during the day?
—Ask about the staffers — their backgrounds, education, and any special training.
—How does the center check backgrounds of staffers?
—How does staff handle initial separation from the parent? Is there a policy for this?
—Make sure that each center you visit makes you feel welcome, opens up their doors for observation, and spends a reasonable amount of time answering your questions.
Before you make that final decision
—Imagine the time has come for you to leave your child in the center. How comfortable would you feel?
—Like so many aspects of parenting, choosing a day care center should be dependent on your gut reactions!
Once your child is enrolled at a center
—Drop by, unannounced, during the day. This is the very best test!
Day Care Center Licensing
The Bureau of Day Care is the licensing body for centers in NYC. To find out if a center is licensed, go to www.nyc.gov/health and click on “Day Care Information”. You can search for centers within boroughs under name, neighborhood or zipcode and access the following information:
—when the center's permit expires—age range of children
—maximum number of children allowed
—date and report of last public health sanitation inspection, plus previous violations and whether these have been corrected
To find out if you are eligible for free or low-cost day care, call 311 and request information on subsidized day care.