Choosing an in-home daycare provider is a huge step for a working mom. Leaving your child with another adult can be difficult, and you want to feel confident you are making the right decision for you and your child. I have personally had three of my four children under the care of other moms in their own homes. In addition to my own experience, I have consulted seven other moms — some who have used in-home daycare and others that have provided it themselves — to compile this list of questions to ask in-home daycare providers when you are in the process finding the right fit for your family.
- Questions to Ask In-Home Daycare about Availability
- Questions About a Typical Day at the In-Home Daycare
- Handling Challenges and Special Circumstances
- Communication between the Parent and In-Home Daycare Provider
- Finance-Related Questions to Ask In-Home Daycare
- Questions about Meals and Feeding
- Questions about Environment and Safety
- Questions about the In-Home Daycare Provider’s Credentials
- Additional Important Questions to Ask In-Home Daycare Providers
- What should I look for in a home daycare?
Questions to Ask In-Home Daycare about Availability
- What hours are you open? It will be important to know how early or late you are able to drop your child off or pick her up. What is the childcare provider’s policy if you are late for the pickup? Some in-home daycare providers do not watch children over school breaks, including summer, so this would be another important issue to bring up if you would need care during those times.
- If you are sick or have an emergency, what is the plan you have in place to take care of my child? The two in-home daycare providers I used over the course of 6 years did not provide backup care options for my children. If they were too sick to work, we would have to stay home or find alternate care for the kids.
Some in-home daycare providers have backup plans in place. Sara, mom of 2, says there were two to three people on staff at her in-home daycare. “It was super nice if one of them happened to have an emergency or get sick, we still were able to maintain bringing our daughter there,” she recalls. “I have heard of other people who send their child to an in-home daycare led by one person, and when they got sick, unfortunately, they couldn’t bring them and didn’t have a backup plan.”
- What are your policies around child illness? You will need to know whether your sitter is willing to watch your own sick child on occasion. If you decide to keep your sick child home with you, will you be responsible for paying for that time?
In addition, if the in-home daycare provider has children of her own, find out what happens if they are sick. One fellow mom shared with me, “My first provider had 4 kids of her own and would cancel on me at the last minute if any of them stayed home sick. Between her 4 kids and my 4 kids, it started getting ridiculous sometimes how often I had to stay home or try to find a backup.” She says her current babysitter, on the other hand, quarantines her own children upstairs if they are home sick and allows the parents to decide whether or not to bring their own kids that day. If the parents decide not to, the sitter does not charge them.
- What holidays do you take off? Make sure you are both on the same page about what holidays you will not need care, as well as what holidays the childcare provider will not be available. Jessica, a mom of 2, says that her sitter takes off all the major holidays, but when they ask about other federal holidays such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the sitter seems hesitant. “It’s frustrating because we have to go through it every year,” she explains.
In addition to knowing when you will need care, also be sure to know whether you are expected to pay the in-home daycare provider for holidays when she is open but your child is not attending.
- What are your vacation policies? Find out whether the in-home daycare provider takes a vacation every year. How far in advance you will know when she is taking time off so that you can make alternate arrangements?
In addition, you will need to know what happens when your family takes a vacation. Are you allowed a certain number of days off per year without having to pay, or are you expected to pay any time you are out of town? Also, find out how much lead time the sitter needs to know about your vacation if you will not be paying during those days. One mom mentioned the courtesy of allowing the babysitter time to fill the spots left vacant by your time off so that she does not lose potential income.
- How often do you anticipate needing whole or partial days off? If the in-home daycare provider anticipates needing to take time off for doctor’s appointments or other obligations, get a sense of this in advance. Perhaps you could find out how far in advance she would be able to let you know of a change in her availability. Abbey, mom of 3, told me that one of her previous in-home daycare providers needed time off every two to three weeks. “It was stressful to always be looking for a backup,” she remembers.
Questions About a Typical Day at the In-Home Daycare
- What does your daily schedule look like? Find out what your in-home daycare provider does on a typical day. Routine is important for children, and it can help to know what structure will be included in his or her day. This can also give you a sense of how organized (or not) the sitter might be.
- What developmental or creative activities do you do with the kids? Does a day at this in-home daycare provider’s house mostly consist of playtime, mealtime, and quiet time? Or, on the other hand, does she engage the children in arts and crafts, gardening, science experiments, or other fun activities? Even if your child is just a baby, it can be great to know what will be in store for them as they grow.
- How flexible is naptime? I was a bit of a stickler for naps when my children were attending an in-home daycare. Thankfully, my childcare providers were flexible and allowed my babies to nap on their own schedule. Others may have a set nap or quiet time that they enforce, and this may not line up with your child’s natural routine.
- Do you take any outings with the kids? Some in-home daycare providers take occasional or frequent outings with the kids. For example, I know one sitter who often took the kids to an inside play area. Others would plan visits to the zoo or park. You will probably want to find out how often outings occur, where they visit, how your child will be transported, and what health and safety precautions the provider has in place.
- How much screen time do you allow? Many in-home daycare providers allow at least some television or screen time. Find out how often the kids use screens and what they watch or play. Make sure the childcare provider’s rules and philosophy match with your own.
On the other hand, how much screen time does the childcare provider engage in during the day? One mom commented, “I can see when she posts on Facebook and wonder what my kids are doing while she’s on Facebook!”
- What transportation do you provide? If your child is older, you may need to arrange transportation to and from preschool or elementary school. It’s important to determine whether the in-home daycare provider is able to accommodate your transportation needs or whether you will need to find another way to get your child to and from school. Additionally, if your child is younger, you may want to find out whether he or she will be taken along on school transportation runs for older kids at the babysitter’s home.
- What am I expected to supply or keep stocked? The daycare provider may provide certain items, such as a place for the child to sleep, sunscreen, diapers, or wipes. Find out what she supplies and what you are responsible for making sure your child has. It may also be helpful for her to provide a supply list so that you remember to bring bottles, a change of clothes, a pacifier, and whatever else is your personal responsibility.
Handling Challenges and Special Circumstances
- What interventions do you try if the baby refuses a bottle or food? The in-home daycare provider’s answer to this question can help you get a sense of her communication style, experience with babies, and her ability to problem-solve. Hopefully, her answer will also reassure you if you are worried about leaving your little one with another adult.
- How do you discipline? You likely will want the in-home daycare provider to correct your child’s inappropriate behavior, but be sure you are on the same page when it comes to discipline. To start with, what are the general rules that she enforces in her home? Furthermore, what disciplinary systems and methods does she use? It may also be worth getting a sense of how often she has to discipline the kids under her care.
- Do you administer medications? If your child has an inhaler or EpiPen, or takes a daily prescription or supplement, you may want to find out whether the in-home daycare provider will administer the medication to the child. It will also help to know this policy if your child has to be on an antibiotic or other temporary medication down the road.
Communication between the Parent and In-Home Daycare Provider
- Do you provide written information about the child’s day? One of the most important aspects of the parent-caregiver relationship is communication about the child. At least for babies and toddlers, daily written notes are critical so that you can be up-to-date on feeding schedules and ounces taken, foods consumed, dirty diapers, and naps. This could be done on a notecard or chart, in a binder, in a communication notebook, or through an app on your phone. Even for preschoolers and older children, it may be useful to have written records.
- What is your preferred communication style with parents about their kids? You and the in-home daycare provider will certainly need to have conversations about your child. You may need to talk about recent fears or habits, skills you are working on with the child, new or needed supplies, food sensitivities, disciplinary issues, a change in schedule, or myriad other aspects of your child’s life. Find out how your childcare provider prefers this communication to happen, whether that be in-person at dropoff or pickup, by phone, text messages, or email. You might also want to ask how the two of you will get in touch with one another during the day in case of a time-sensitive issue or emergency.
- Do you send updates during the day? What parent doesn’t love receiving a photo of their child’s smiling face during the day? Ask the in-home daycare provider whether she texts updates or perhaps uses an app, website, or private social media to give you a peek into your child’s day and keep you connected.
Finance-Related Questions to Ask In-Home Daycare
- What is your daily rate? In-home daycares typically charge by the day rather than by the hour. The daily rate will likely vary based on the age of child or children and whether you will be attending the in-home daycare full-time or part-time. If you are inquiring about sending more than one child, the childcare provider may discount the second child.
- Are meals and snacks included in the rate? Some in-home daycare providers include meals and snacks in the daily rate, while others charge extra or expect you to pack your own food.
- How and when will I make payments? Ask about whether the in-home daycare provider requires payment on a certain day of the week, or whether there is any flexibility with payment dates. You may also want to find out whether the sitter prefers to be paid by cash, check, or some other method.
- How do you handle taxes? While I am not a tax professional and cannot advise here, some in-home daycare providers handle taxes differently than others. How they choose to claim their income will impact your potential childcare credits on your taxes. Additionally, some will charge you more if you plan to report your childcare payments on your own taxes.
Questions about Meals and Feeding
- What experience do you have with breast milk? Jessica cautions, “It is very important to make sure your sitter knows proper handling of breast milk.” Be sure the in-home daycare providers knows proper storage and heating techniques. After all, as Jessica adds, nursing moms “work too hard to have it go to waste!”
- (If they provide meals) What type of food do you typically make? If you prefer for your children not to always eat processed or microwavable foods, or if they have food sensitivities or allergies, you might want to get a sample menu of snacks and lunch for a typical week.
- (If you are providing food) Are there restrictions on what foods I can bring? If there are gluten, nut, or other allergies amongst the kids or adults at the house, you may be limited as to what you can pack. You may also want to find out whether the sitter is willing to heat up food or if you need to send meals that are ready to go out of the lunchbox.
Questions about Environment and Safety
- How many other children will be there? It’s important to know whether the in-home daycare provider will have an appropriate number of children there, as well as how many other children will be in competition for her attention. One mom recalled visiting a babysitter that had at least ten toddlers confined in one space. “I couldn’t wait to leave. It felt overwhelming even as an adult,” she shares.
Jessica shared, “There have been times when I know our sitter has taken more kids than she was supposed to.” This made her feel uncomfortable because she wanted to make sure her kids were getting appropriate supervision, and she also wanted to know who her children would be spending time with. The children with whom your kids will attend daycare will become an important influence and part of their social circle, so you will likely want to have a good grasp of who they are.
Of course, the more children around, the more opportunities for germs to be shared between them, as well. This could lead to increased absences from work due to daycare being shut down or needing to stay home with your own sick children.
- What is the age range of children you watch? One fellow mom, Casey, has had experience with five different in-home daycare providers. She says she learned the hard way the importance of the variety of ages attending the daycare at one time. Her 5-year-old daughter was older than the other children, and the in-home daycare provider had a forced nap every afternoon. “It was very difficult for my daughter to lay still for an hour, and she was not allowed a book or quiet toy to play with, even after I had multiple conversations with the provider,” she shares.
On the flip side of that coin, a daycare provider may be inconvenienced by babies’ and toddlers’ naptimes if she wants to do activities with older kids outside of the house. She also may struggle to keep up with the needs of the various age ranges at one time. (As a mom of four, I know that can be a challenge!)
- Do you have pets, and how do you handle them? Do your children have animal allergies or fears? If so, this may be an issue if the in-home daycare provider has pets. Find out whether pets will be at the home, and if so, whether they will be around the children.
- Who else might be in the home when my children are there? If the in-home daycare provider’s spouse or children will be there, you may want to be aware and get to know them prior to signing a childcare agreement.
One mom tried a sitter for a short period of time. “She was a sweet lady and a good child care provider, but I had some reservations about her husband,” she says. “Then he got into some criminal trouble, and suffice it to say, we had to terminate the relationship.”
- Where will the children nap? As I mentioned earlier, I was a big stickler for naps. I was fortunate that each of my sitters had quiet, dark rooms where they would put my children down to sleep. Other sitters may not have such a sleep-conducive setup.
However, the other important factor when it comes to naps is how the childcare provider will keep an eye on children while they are in bed. Do they have baby monitors? Can they hear the children when they cry?
You can also check in about safe sleep policies to make sure you and the sitter are on the same page.
- Are vaccinations required? Whether or not you vaccinate your own children, you may want to find out about the vaccination policies at the in-home daycare. Perhaps you would feel safer knowing that all the other children in the sitter’s care have been vaccinated. On the other hand, if you do not vaccinate your kids, that may be a dealbreaker for this potential childcare relationship.
- What dangerous items or health hazards can be found in the home? Find out whether the childcare provider has guns in the house. You will need to decide whether you feel safe if there are guns around, even if they are locked up. In addition, are medications and cleaning supplies kept safely away from children? Is there a pool or body of water nearby that may pose a drowning risk? Is the home smoke-free?
- Have you childproofed your home? A mom who provided in-home daycare for several years and directed a daycare center prior to that says, “Safety is most important in the small details.” She recommends looking out for uncovered outlets, exposed electrical wires or surge protectors, choking hazards, unsecured televisions or large furniture, and doors that could be easily opened by children.
You may also want to look for stairs that are not gated, check playground equipment, and keep an eye out for other areas that generally do not feel safe to you. Jessica remembers, “Another provider we interviewed had a great setup inside her house, but when I looked in her yard, there were piles of bricks everywhere. It just didn’t seem like a safe place for kids to be playing.”
Questions about the In-Home Daycare Provider’s Credentials
- What experience do you have? As one mom wisely says, “Being a mom yourself or babysitting as a teenager doesn’t necessarily qualify you to be responsible for other children, or to manage multiple children by yourself.” Find out how long the in-home daycare provider has been taking care of children in her home, what ages she has watched, how many children she has been responsible for at one time, and whether she had any other prior experience in childcare prior to that.
We hired one mom who had no prior professional experience in childcare, but she was a family friend and essentially adopted our daughter (and later our other children) into her home. In that case, I felt comfortable because we trusted her, and my kids were the only other ones besides her own there. Ultimately, it comes down to your level of comfort.
- What are your certifications? You might like to know whether your potential in-home daycare provider has safety certifications such as CPR, First Aid, and communicable disease training. You also might be interested to know whether she has any degrees in a related field, such as child development or early childhood education.
- Is your daycare center licensed? Licensed in-home daycares are required to maintain health safety standards, and they will be inspected to ensure they are following all regulations.. Requirements and standards for licensure will vary by state.
Additional Important Questions to Ask In-Home Daycare Providers
- May I speak to your references? It is crucial to speak with other people who are currently sending their children to the in-home daycare or have in the past. Hopefully, their descriptions of the in-home daycare provider echo what you are hoping to find in a person who is going to be caring for your child.
Abbey suggests looking for “someone whose references describe them as honest/trustworthy, reliable. I also ask references about the sitter’s relationship within her family/with her own kids, as that is telling about how they will guide my children through good and tough days!”
Not only will these conversations help you learn more about the childcare provider, but they will also introduce you to the families (or types of families) who will be sharing the daycare with you. This daycare offers a thorough list of questions to ask references.
- Will you consent to a background check? A background check will help you confirm what you have already learned about the sitter, as well as see any criminal records and driving records (which will be important if they will drive your child around).
- What questions do you have for me? This is a two-way street! The in-home daycare provider should have the opportunity to learn about you and what kind of fit you will be for her program. Casey warns against hiring a person who seems desperate for your business versus a person who can afford to be picky about the families she accepts. For example, when she interviewed two different providers, one seemed “calm, open, and clearly was comfortable with interviewing me to see if I was a good fit. If I wasn’t, she would not have accepted my daughter.” Contrastingly, another seemed “nervous, repeated herself, and was almost begging for my child. In hindsight, that should have been a big clue.”
What should I look for in a home daycare?
After you have interviewed the in-home daycare provider, how do you know whether she is a good fit? Here is a list of qualities that fellow moms and I suggest looking for in an in-home daycare:
- Developmentally appropriate activities and toys for children
- Schedule or routine that works for you and your children
- Demeanor that puts you at ease
- Seems confident and in control of her program
- Great communication skills and strategies
- Positive references and clean background check
- Your children react positively
- An appropriate number of children attending
- Exhibits similar morals and values to your own
- Positive interactions with children
- You feel comfortable with the other children attending
- Rules, protocols, and disciplinary strategies you agree with
- Clean, safe, uncluttered environment
- Appropriate areas for eating, playing, and sleeping, with plenty of room
- It feels like a “home” that you want your kids to be a part of
- Proximity to your work so that you do not lose too much time driving
Overall, moms echo the importance of trusting your gut. Do you feel comfortable leaving your child with this person? Even if she looks great on paper, you will know if there is something “off.” Pay attention to how your children react, as well. In-home daycare can be an absolutely wonderful experience. In fact, we are very close friends with the two families that took our kids in over the 6 years that I used in-home daycare. However, the most important thing is that you, your children, and your childcare provider all feel comfortable entering into this crucial relationship with one another.
- 12 Mistakes Parents Make When Hiring a Nanny
- 6 Reasons to Embrace Being a Working Mom
- 12 Tips for Achieving Work-Life Balance as a Working Mom
Save this list for later on Pinterest: