This time, last year, I was preparing to return to work from maternity leave. My plan had been to return to work after three months, August 12, 2015, to be exact. I had a few leads from an earlier search in February, but nothing contracted. I built a spreadsheet to track the dozen or so places I contacted. I called. I did online research and nothing. No one had availability…until the end of August or September. When I reached out to all my fellow mommy friends for advice, they confirmed what I had suspected: finding daycare in San Francisco is daunting. Between their advice and my lack of daycare options prior to my return-to-work date, I extended my maternity leave by an additional month (Thank goodness for “baby bonding” time in California) to find the right daycare for my baby. It was the best decision I made, because Ilse is in great hands. Since finding daycare can be daunting for any parent, I wanted to share some tips that worked for me.
- Determine what kind of daycare makes sense
Daycare comes in all kinds of forms: traditional day care facilities, home care, au pairs, nannies, extended family, grandparents, or you as a stay-at-home parent. The type of care should be weighed against the cost of the care (hourly? monthly?) and the location of the care (how far is the daycare from home or work). Talk about it with your partner or spouse. There is no wrong decision here. Do what will meet your family’s needs.
- Do your homework
Once you determine the kind of day care you want to pursue and when you want that daycare to start, do your homework. Do online research. Personally, I am leery of “Yelp” reviews, because reviews can be very skewed. Reach out to your fellow mommies for referrals. Social media was a blessing for me during this phase. Once I ran out of leads, I solicited advice from my mommy group on Facebook, and they directed me to a wonderful site called Nurturelist.com.* It’s an online site for daycare and schools in the San Francisco Bay area. I jotted all my findings on a spreadsheet, so I could keep track of all the places I called, especially those that openings around my return-to-work date. Options that were promising were highlighted, so I could schedule tours.
- Tour & Interview
While pictures and a beautiful website may woo you to selecting one daycare over another, nothing compares to a physical tour and interview. A tour enables you to test the commute, examine the facilities, and ask the questions that were not uncovered during your research process. Yes, bring your child (provided they are in good spirits). At the end of the tour, you should be able to imagine your child there. One of my biggest concerns was the ratio of caregiver to child and play space. Some facilities had large play spaces but high ratios of caregiver to child. Another place had a low ratio of caregiver to child, but no play space. Another concern was safety. How many cameras are present throughout the facility? Are the exits clearly identified? After your tour, ask for sample contracts and references. A reputable facility will give both willingly. Sample contracts detail your rights and responsibilities, fees, terms of enrollment, etc. References from other parents can demonstrate how happy the families are with their care. Who better to tell you about how well their child does at a daycare than another parent? One of the most surprising things I learned about Ilse’s daycare was how attentive the caregivers were to all the children. At the end of the day, all the children were groomed prior to going home.
After doing the first three steps, it’s time to make a selection. Make the best selection that makes sense for you and your family. It may be hard. You may cry. That’s okay. But you can take comfort in knowing you are making the most educated decision to ensure your child’s well-being and growth while you’re at work. Peace of mind is priceless for us parents.
For me, the process of finding daycare in San Francisco lead me to select a facility completely different from the one I had initially sought. I began my search determined to select a traditional facility located downtown with lots of amenities and services. I ended up selecting a small, home-based one , because all the children played together in plenty of space. Finding daycare in San Francisco or any city doesn’t have to be daunting if you determine what care you need, do your homework, and tour & interview.
*Editor’s Note, June 5, 2017: The data on Nurturelist.com is no longer actively maintained. Check out Winnie for up-to-date information.