Congratulations! Now that your blood pressure has gone down from the excitement/nervousness of that positive pregnancy test and reality sets in, what’s next? If the adults in your family are all working, it’s time to look for child care! Yes, even before you tell your loved ones following that delightful first trimester, or before you go scanner happy at Tot Tank or Target for that baby registry. If you hope to keep your baby in the care of someone in our beautiful island city, or really anywhere in the Bay Area, you need to start your search as soon as the shock of a new family member wears off. Seriously.
So where do you turn? First, a quick sit down to discuss your desires for child care and (very broad) options… assuming a fairy godmother (or grandmother) isn’t going to be on child care duty every moment you need them.
What do you want your family and child to get out of their new child care setting? Super structured, or more play based? Close to home, or close to your place of employment? What’s your budget? Smaller, more intimate setting, or larger child care facility? Do you work and need child care during normal business hours, or do you only need child care for nights and weekends? Are you looking for full or part-time care? Do you have the flexibility to take off work if a sole care provider is sick? Is an outdoor play space important to you? And, a bit further down the line, but something to consider now: do you want to provide meals or have the child care provider prepare meals?
After answering the questions above, you may be able to eliminate or narrow down your choice to one or more of the following options:
1) Nanny or Nanny Share
2) Child Care Center
3) Family Child Care Home
4) Part-time Recreation Program (This last option is typically not an option for the littlest ones, so I won’t go into too much depth here.)
If you choose a nanny or nanny share (fair warning: typically the most expensive of your options), you will want to reach out to your mommy/AFC/Facebook/Yahoo Group networks in town ASAP (okay, maybe this can wait until the end of the magical third month of pregnancy). Alameda Family Collective, Alameda Mamas Facebook groups. and Alameda Parents Network Yahoo group are brimming with families looking to share or pass off their wonderful, fantastic nannies. Before you interview your very own Mary Poppins, be sure that potential nannies are cleared through TrustLine – a background check specifically for caregivers. This background service is about $135, but priceless for someone who will be caring for your child.
If a nanny is not your preference, your next call is BANANAS if you are looking for care in Northern Alameda County, 4Cs of Alameda County if you need care closer to work in Southern Alameda County, or Child Care Links if the child care you need will be in the Tri-Valley area. These are Alameda County’s Child Care Resource and Referral (R&R) Agencies, and they are the ONLY ones in the county with access to the list of ALL licensed child care facilities or preschools (used interchangeably in the early care and education field).
Call or stop by your local R&R, or check out their website – some have online forms – and give them the information about the care you are seeking. The R&R child care specialist will provide you with your own customized list of providers that meet your needs FOR FREE. Yes, they will whittle down the 91,823,679,621 child care options in Alameda to only those that are open when you need them to be, fit your budget, are in the location you need, etc. They will talk about the difference between Family Child Care Homes and Child Care Centers (yes, both must follow Community Care Licensing regulations) and answer any specific questions you may have about child care generally.
Okay, so now you have your list to jump off of. Next, hop onto the Community Care Licensing’s website and search every single one on your short list for violations. If a facility has severe violations and their license has been revoked, they will not be on the list from the R&R. If a child care facility is on your list, you will still want to check out previous violations, if any. You will want to know what the potential violations were, and if any just don’t feel right the facility can be crossed off your shortlist. Now is the time to set up tours. Infant care waitlists can fill up VERY fast (like a year out) - so the sooner, the better. Ask the hard questions (you can see a great list of questions here). Be sure to go on the tour ideally mid-morning or mid-afternoon when the children are less likely to be napping and you can get a real feel for the child care.
Once the tours are done, perhaps you are wavering between a few. This is when you reach out to your Alameda parent community. What do families like – and, almost more importantly, not like - about these particular child care facilities? I would strongly suggest making an ultimate decision, signing a contract, and getting on the waitlist no later than one year prior to your little one beginning at a program. ONE. WHOLE. YEAR. You may think this is crazy talk, but trust me, this will lift a huge burden off of your family so that you can sit back, enjoy the morning sickness, swollen ankles, prenatal massages, “baby’s” cravings, and newborn months, and try not to think about handing your new bundle of joy off to complete strangers… we’ll talk about surviving that next time.
Katie Honegger is an Alameda native raising her 4-year-old preschooler, Brayden, with her Alameda High School sweetheart husband, Travis. Katie works for 4Cs of Alameda County and was recently appointed by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors as a member of the Alameda County Early Care and Education Planning Council Steering Committee. When she is not working or neck-deep in Paw Patrol, you can find her volunteering for Alameda Family Services as a Board member and fundraiser, watching documentaries, or finding her zen at Leela Yoga.