June 28, 2016 11:38 am
Updated: December 11, 2017 12:11 pm

Top 5 things to look for in quality child care

WATCH ABOVE: Day care providers are warning parents to be vigilant choosing child care as the province sees an upswing in the number of caregivers opening their doors. In the last year, 4,000 new approved and licensed spaces have popped up in Alberta and some day home providers say they're seeing an increase in the number of private day homes too. Laurel Gregory has some tips for navigating the system.

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When Jessica Pesklevits opened Walking with Hobbits Dayhome in Mill Woods at the beginning of the year, she expected competition.

“In this area of Mill Woods there’s like a day care or a day home on any street and so it’s been really tough because everyone is trying to fill their spots,” Pesklevits said.

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In the six months she’s been operating, the early learning and child care student said the choices are only growing. She’s observing a growth in private day homes both on sites like Facebook and Kijiji and hearing about them, anecdotally, from parents seeking child care options.

“I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of private day homes and people who got laid off work and it’s just easier for them to stay at home,” Pesklevits said. “A lot of the day homes I’m seeing are just somebody looking for an extra income because they can’t go to work or something like that.”

Alberta Human Services only tracks licensed and approved spaces in Alberta. Data obtained by Global News from the ministry suggests those spaces are climbing. Between March 2015 and March 2016, licensed and approved spaces grew by more than 4,000 to 109,482.

Some agencies are also noticing the spike. In the first six months of 2016, Northalta Family Day Care Service, for example, saw a 50 per cent increase in the number of applications to open an approved family day home, compared to a year earlier.

“I do believe the economy has played a part in this,” said Arlene McMillan, an agency coordinator. “People have been laid off and wives are looking for other income sources.”

With a rise in day home and day care providers, child care advocates like Nicki Dublenko hope the quality of care doesn’t suffer.

“We want to make sure that these children are getting stimulated and having appropriate child development,” said Dublenko, chair of the Alberta Child Care Association. “First and foremost, we need to make sure these children are safe, they’re in homes that are not over capacity and are giving them quality experiences.”

Parents have a growing number of options to choose from. Some prefer a private day home, which is not licensed and can only care for up to six children, not including the caregiver’s own. Others seek licensed and approved child care, which is held to provincial standards.

Watch below: McMillan describes how agencies screen and monitor approved family day homes

Global News went to the Edmonton Police Service Child Protection Section and the Early Learning and Child Care Program at MacEwan University to develop a check list to help parents navigate the emotional minefield of choosing the best child care, whether that means going private or approved.

Who is the caregiver?

Tricia Lirette, assistant professor in Early Learning and Child Care at MacEwan University, recommends asking for a criminal record check and first aid certificate, as well as any diplomas or certificates relating to an education in child care.

According to Alberta’s ministry of Human Services, “licensed child care programs in Alberta are required to post their inspection reports in a prominent and visible place on the program premises. Contracted family day home agencies are required to provide information to parents on the compliance history of individual providers.”

The ministry allows parents to check inspection reports using Human Service’s Child Care Lookup tool, as well.

Lirette recommends asking for references too.

“If this is a business and you’re hiring this person then, yeah, I think it’s okay. They should have someone you can contact that can tell you about the care that their children received.”

Watch below: Lirette describes what to look for when choosing quality child care

Check out the environment

Sgt. Christa Laforce with the Edmonton Police Service’s Child Protection Section suggests dropping by for an unscheduled visit to see how the child care service operates. Is it clean? Has the caregiver taken safety measures to prepare the room for kids?

“Typically when we get child care it’s because we are working full-time but if you have the availability or the time, do an unexpected visit just to see how the child care centre is operating while your child is there.”

Laforce also suggests checking in to see who has access to the space. Do staff members’ relatives or friends visit?

“It’s always important to know who is going to have the potential to interact with their children.”

Lirette said parents often just get a picture of what’s happening at the day home or day care at the beginning and end of the day, so it’s important to ask if there’s an open-door policy. During your visit she recommends observing the interaction as much as the environment.

“What are the caregivers interactions like with the children? Is she sensitive? Is she responsive? Is she paying attention? Is she playing? Is she part of the games going on? Is she ensuring children are within supervision sight so children aren’t unsupervised for long periods of time.”

Arlene McMillan adds parents should know how many children are being cared for.

“We want it to be quality child care not crowd control so how many are in there? Can she meet the needs of all those children in that home?”

What kind of programming is offered?

Lirette recommends getting a sense of what an average day is like at the child care service. How is it structured? Do kids get screen time?

“Are there large periods of play where children can be outside? Where is the play space in the home or what does it look like if you’re in a centre?”

She said kids benefit from materials that encourage creative expression (paint, crayons), sensory play (clay, sand and water), literacy (music, books, print), and imaginative play (dress-up clothes and props). Lirette also likes to see toys and tools on low shelves so kids have an element of choice in their playtime, along with a daily dose of fresh air.

“It’s very, very important both from the perspective of active physical play…but more and more we’re learning about how being connected with nature is really important for children’s social and emotional well-being. That down time, that awareness of their environment, learning about nature, learning about their role in nature would be something that we really want children to be exposed to.”

Do they share your parenting approach?

If a conflict happens, what’s the caregiver’s approach? Lirette suggests finding that out before placing your child in a child care setting. What happens when kids have conflicts? Do they approach them as learning opportunities? How do they approach discipline or guidance in that environment?

“For parents, you really want to hear and ask questions to ensure it’s a strategy that matches your own.”

Trust your gut

“How do you feel in that home? If something doesn’t feel right for you, pay attention to that feeling and either ask a question or make a different choice,” Lirette said. “We talk a lot about – for young children if they’re in a particular environment all day – what’s sort of raining down on them? Is there a pleasant positive atmosphere surrounding them during the day?”

Laforce said parents should choose the right day care after putting in the time to research and check out the options.

“We do a lot of research when it comes to purchasing a car or appliances. We should be taking the same – if not more – consideration when we’re looking for a child care facility.”

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment

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