If you’re like a lot of new parents, the demands of making a living mean your newborn will need child care. Good news: Colorado has hundreds of great family child care programs, licensed by the state to rigorous quality standards. Even so, you might understandably be feeling a little nervous about choosing one. After all, you’ll be leaving your baby all day with these people, and it’s not like your baby can tell you how that’s going.
“You want to make sure they’re in an environment that’s healthy and safe,” says Theresa Rapstine, RN, a nurse on Children’s Hospital Colorado’s school health team. “Luckily, there are a lot of great ways to find information about child care.”
What to look for in a child care program
All licensed child care programs (and licensed ones are the best way to go, says Rapstine) keep a handbook of policies and procedures with info on everything from their curriculum to their menus. Parents can also ask for a tour to see the facilities, meet the caregivers and ask questions.
The key, Rapstine says, is knowing what to ask.
What will my baby eat?
If you’re nursing, ask if you can breastfeed during the day, or if they’ll feed your pumped breast milk when you can’t make it. And keep in mind that your baby will be starting on solids before you know it. When they do, they’ll need healthy, balanced meals.
How much time will my baby spend outside?
Children, even babies, should get at least 30 minutes outside every day. Ideally, they’ll get even more.
What’s the immunization policy?
All licensed child care centers in Colorado have an immunization policy, although the particulars vary. It’s also worth asking about their immunization rates.
When can I visit my baby?
“You want to be able to visit at all times of the day,” says Rapstine. “Not just certain hours.”
Where will my baby sleep?
Safe sleep is important. Every baby in the program should be in a safe, clean sleeping environment with no blankets, no bumpers and no toys — just a firm mattress and a fitted sheet.
What will my baby do all day?
Any licensed child care program meets curriculum standards that encourage children’s physical, cognitive and social-emotional development. What shape that takes may vary, though, so ask lots of questions about their daily agenda.
What do you do when babies cry?
You should be comfortable with the program’s approach. “The most important thing,” says Rapstine, “is that they share your family’s values.”
Colorado Shines: a great child care resource
The State of Colorado tours child care programs, too — and they compile the in-depth information they gather into a quality rating system you can access for free. It’s called Colorado Shines, and when it comes to choosing child care, it’s a parent’s best friend.
Simply use the site’s search function to connect with programs in your area. Programs rated level 1 or 2 are in good standing with the state, where programs rated level 3 to 5 are considered high quality, meaning they’ve demonstrated advanced practices in health and safety, staff education and training, learning environment and other areas.
“For any parent looking for a good child care program,” says Rapstine, “this is a great, comprehensive tool.”
Healthy Child Care Colorado: looking out for Colorado kids
Aside from her work on Children’s Colorado’s team of more than 40 school nurses, Rapstine works as a consultant with Healthy Child Care Colorado, a nonprofit public-private partnership that includes Children’s Colorado, state agencies and other nonprofits. Dedicated to health, safety and wellness in early childhood settings, the nurses and pediatricians who serve as child care health consultants play a crucial role in advocating for kids’ health where many kids spend most of their waking hours — in the child care setting.