Choosing childcare is one of the most challenging return-to-work tasks for new parents. By Kirsten Braun
While certain childcare services are now assessed and rated against National Quality Standards, a good rating is just one consideration when choosing childcare. A childcare centre, for example, might have terrific facilities but if it is not conveniently located or its hours are limited it might not be the best option. We pose a number of questions to help parents find the best childcare arrangement for them.
Question 1: Are you emotionally ready?
The high demand for childcare in some locations means that women can be offered a spot at a childcare service at short notice and be expected to make a decision in a short time frame. Similarly, when a woman’s maternity leave is coming to an end they will have to inform their employer of when (or if) they are returning to work. These situations can leave women feeling rushed about making a decision. Not having sufficient time to come to terms with returning to work and leaving a child in the care of others can make women feel it is too soon.
For those women who feel hesitant about putting their child in childcare, posing a few questions can be helpful. Are you reluctant because you feel the baby is too young to be left at childcare? If this is the case, can you talk with your employer about extending your maternity leave, returning part-time, or returning to work gradually with reduced hours for a period of time? Could some of your job be done from home or via telecommuting? Alternatively, is the concern with the type of childcare on offer? If this is the case would a different type of childcare arrangement be better suited? For example, some women may feel reluctant to leave their child at a long day care centre but may feel family day care or having someone care for the child in the home is acceptable.
Question 2: Is your child ready?
Whether you feel your child is ready for childcare might depend on the age of your child as well as the type of childcare you choose. For some women, a large childcare centre may feel like a daunting option if the baby is only six months old but perhaps a smaller centre or family day care might provide a better fit. Conversely, women with a very active toddler might feel their child needs more social interaction and the stimulation of different activities that can’t be as easily offered at home.
Parents know their child better than anyone else and this knowledge can help with the decision-making. Does your child adjust to new environments easily or do they find change difficult? Does your child find too much noise and activity overwhelming? Would your child benefit from more interactions with similar aged children?
In addition, finding out as much information as you can about the prospective childcare service can also be helpful. This could be information about the daily schedule, sleep times, whether food is supplied and what it typically includes, and the play equipment, books and other resources available. Having more detailed information can help parents decide if their child’s particular needs can be accommodated. For example, if a child still has a morning nap but the childcare centre’s sleep time is after lunch, how the centre would manage this might help with the decision-making.
Question 3: What about the logistics?
When choosing childcare, also consider practical aspects such as how it will fit in to your work day. Would you prefer the childcare to be near your work or your home? Childcare near work can be beneficial if you are still breastfeeding, if your child becomes ill and you need to pick them up early or it’s hard to judge the travel time due to traffic congestion. Childcare near home is convenient if you are sick as you don’t have to still travel in to work and is more practical if you change workplaces frequently. Childcare near home will also invariably be attended by children that live close-by, which is useful when children start making friends. Attending childcare in the local area can give families a sense of community.
Other questions to ask are: if you have to drop off your child, how long will it take to drive/walk there; what is the parking like; and is it near public transport? In addition, if your employer sometimes requires you to work additional or different days can your childcare accommodate this? Many childcare centres, for example, have limited or no vacancies and so there is not a great deal of flexibility while others may be quite flexible. What are the opening hours for the service? A centre that opens or closes an extra half an hour earlier can make all the difference when travelling in peak hour traffic. Similarly, how long are they closed over the December/January break?
If women feel confident in the childcare option they have chosen it can make a real difference to their return to work. Asking these important questions will hopefully assist women and their families to find an arrangement that works best for them.
Last updated: June 2017.
© Women's Health Queensland Wide Inc. This article was written by Kirsten Braun and reviewed by the Women's Health Queensland Wide editorial committee. It was published in Health Journey 2017 Issue 2.
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