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A baby and two adults.

Quality child care, whatever the type, requires caring, responsible adults who understand young children.

Finding child care

Options abound, but which is best for you?

By Anita Rios

From Brief, August 11, 2004

Fall usually signals the start of a new school year. And, while most University employees are gearing up for the next semester, some have an additional challenge: finding quality child care. It can be a daunting task, especially if it's your first attempt as a new parent.

Don't get your mind set on one type of care, whether it is center-based or family-based, advises Polly Mattila, a research assistant in veterinary pathobiology and parent of a 13-month-old. Mattila began her search by calling different types of care facilities to find out caregiver ratios, prices, and hours. She chose a private, licensed home for her daughter because of the flexible hours. "Our provider was one of the few people who would do part-time infant day care," she says.

Select the right child care for your family

You'll want to be comfortable with the decision you make about your child's provider. Here are some pointers that can help guide your selection.

1. Decide what type of care fits your needs. See /life_events/child_care /types.html.
2. Interview child care providers by phone. See /index.html /PhoneInterview.htm.
3. Visit in person.
4. Check references.
5. Sort out information.
6. Prepare your child.

As soon as Erin Kelly, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, found out that she was pregnant, she signed up for the University's Child Care Center. A spot didn't open for 19 months, so her son didn't start attending the center until he was 10 months old. Kelly's biggest challenge was finding short-term child care until the spot opened.

"My spouse and I split child care from months three to six, and then hired a part-time nanny for the next four months," she says. Kelly adds that the wait for the Child Care Center was well worth it; her son loves being around the other children and staff are very knowledgeable.

Arne Johnson, coordinator of marketing in the College of Continuing Education, faced the challenge of finding a child care facility that would take three children, ages 4, 6, and 9, and was fairly close to his home. With the help of CareQuest, the University's child care resource and referral service, Johnson found family day care "with a nice backyard, in a nice neighborhood, near a park, that also had kids the same age as my kids."

The nearby park has a program called Big Shots, run by the city of Minneapolis, which includes swimming and field trips. "I couldn't have found a better situation," Johnson says.

Quality child care includes...

--Caring and responsible adults who understand young children
--Safe and healthy environments
--Activities children enjoy that stimulate learning

For information about on-site child care options at the U, see /ohr/worklife /childcareresources.html.

For some parents, a combination approach is best.

"My choice when my daughter was very little was a family day care," says Mallory Johnson, informational representative in the Office of Continuing Medical Education. "Now that she's close to three years old, we have her in a preschool two days a week."

Johnson used CareQuest to get a list of preschools in her area. "After doing a few phone interviews and drive-bys, we chose to tour a center near our home, and we are now using that preschool," she says.

Johnson advises not moving a child around too much. But, she adds, if care isn't working out for any reason, move your child as soon as you can. Everyone has heard bad stories about bad care, and Johnson says she feels lucky her baby has never had to go through that.

Whether you settle on family child care or a child care center, University parents strongly recommend thorough screening.

"Ask a lot of questions over the phone," Mattila advises. "Get references." Arne Johnson recommends starting with a phone interview, then meeting the prospective day care provider with kids present. "Check out their house and neighborhood," he says.

Most important is whether the teachers will really care for your child, says Jennifer Amie, a Bell Museum employee and parent of a 10-month-old son.

"Are they affectionate and patient?" she asks. "Do they truly enjoy being with children?"

Such things are impossible to quantify, unlike teacher-child ratio, staff turnover rates, and other factors that parents weigh. But in the end, Amie chose her child care center, in large part, because she liked the atmosphere--"The babies seemed happy and content and the teachers seemed relaxed, engaged, and positive."

Child care resource and referral: CareQuest

As a University of Minnesota employee, you have access to subsidized child care resource and referral through CareQuest. CareQuest can help you with your child care search by providing quick access to current openings in licensed child care and tailored requests based upon location, type of care, hours, smoking or pet concerns, and special needs.

Faculty, staff, and students on the Crookston, Duluth, Morris, and Twin Cities campuses are eligible.

The cost is a $30 one-time-only fee and is free for families earning less than $50,000 annually. CareQuest can be reached between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. weekdays by calling 651-222-4664 or 1-888-233-2565. For more information, see

Anita Rios is the coordinator of the Work/Life Initiative in the Office of Human Resources.

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