Dream or Nightmare? Choices in Child care

Guest blog contributed by Agnieszka Moroni, MOTR/L, Occupational Therapist and TOTS Director & Founder. Consider joining her for a live discussion/Q&A session on Monday, December 11th from 7:00-8:00pm via zoom! Registration is free, but required using this link. EI Continuing Education credits are pending for professionals.

The world of parenting is full of opinions, and well-meaning loved ones are quick to offer advice from day one. What’s your birth plan? Will you give your baby breast milk or formula? Does your child sleep with you or cry it out on their own? Baby-led weaning or spoon-fed purees? And aren’t you a little late for potty training?

It’s no different about child care. Is it better to be a stay-at-home parent? Ask the grandparents? Hire a nanny? Daycare perhaps? Every family has different circumstances that lead them to make the best choice for their situation. And as with everything else, there are pros and cons to all the options on the table.

Stay-at-home parents

Or better known as “work-at-home parents” because we all know that being home with your child 24/7 is a TON OF WORK! Historically known as a housewife, househusband, or homemaker, SAHMs (stay-at-home-moms) and SAHDs (stay-at-home-dads) quit their income-producing jobs to devote themselves to taking care of their children and home full-time. The abundant time together yields itself to great relationship-building in the early years and an ability to parent your child your own way without navigating opposing approaches. Parents get to witness every milestone and can focus their attention on the child’s needs without juggling a demanding career. Many SAH parents are intentional about participating in community programs at their local library or park district, as well as getting together with other SAH parents, to provide socialization for their kids and for themselves. If your child requires therapies, you likely have a flexible schedule, are present for all sessions, and can implement strategies into your everyday routines.

In-home caretaker

Many families choose to ask a trusted family member or hire a babysitter, nanny, or a live-in au pair to take care of their child in the home, often helping with house work or drop-offs and pick-ups for outside activities as well. When staying with a caretaker, children have the opportunity to build their tolerance for separation from their parents while remaining in the familiar environment of their own house, bed, and toys. A dedicated grandparent, relative, or family friend may help without payment and offers the ultimate level of trust and familiarity for the child. A hired helper is selected by the parents according to their preferred qualifications. Any of these caregivers can be as flexible as the family needs in regard to the number of hours per week, the shifts required to cover the parent’s work schedule, the food they feed them, the parenting style that the family would prefer to utilize, or offering support for any differing needs that a child may have. Any of the child’s therapy sessions are usually attended by this caregiver, allowing him or her to implement the strategies into the time they spend together. You are able to connect with that caregiver in depth when you return home so they can fill you in on the therapy session and any home programs that were provided.

Child care center

An alternative for working parents is to bring their child to an outside organization, either an in-home or center-based setting, to develop in groups with other children. Child care centers are also known as daycares or preschools, depending on their location or ages of children served. Both daycares and preschools may offer part-time or full-time care. Many people associate the word “daycare” with infants/toddlers and “preschools” with children over three years old. Some people unfortunately have a negative (and inaccurate!) connotation of the word “daycare,” implying that it’s “glorified babysitting” and offers lower quality care than a “preschool.” Legally required to be licensed and closely monitored by DCFS, all daycare centers have minimum standards for their curriculum, teacher qualifications, staff-to-child ratios, and so on. Similarly, preschool programs may be governed under DCFS licensing standards if they’re privately-owned and provide care for infants through six years old. Park districts and faith organizations may offer preschool programs as well. Public preschools are affiliated with the local school district and governed by the School Board of Education. Depending on the program, tuition for care may be paid by the parents, financial assistance or scholarships, or waived due to a variety of factors. In any group setting, children have daily opportunities to learn social skills, build early friendships, and build their tolerance for a busy environment away from home.

Therapeutic centers

Many local clinics offer preschool programs that are taught by therapists, social workers, or other professionals to support children with developmental or medical needs. These may be offered full-time or part-time, may be specific to a diagnosis such as autism, or focused on a particular goal area (e.g., feeding group, social skills group, etc.). Unfortunately, the child care options that parents have for their children in therapy may be more limited than their peers. Enrollment in these programs may be impacted by insurance coverage or a diagnosis (or lack thereof), and in many parents’ situations, care is not offered full-time to cover their work schedules. Children with mild delays may do well in a traditional child care setting, but for children who are moderately or severely impacted, families often find that the support is not sufficient. This can be especially true for – but not limited to – children who require specialized medical care (e.g., feeding tubes, oxygen, etc.) or kids with behavioral differences.

Which one is best for my child?

Debating about the best option for child care is about as useless as figuring out the best barbecue spot in Memphis, TN. Everyone has their own preference! Some families have the luxury of choosing any of the above, while others may need to do a combination or think outside the box for alternative care. Many rural areas are child care deserts with limited options, while suburbs and cities may offer parents a plethora of choices. Parents who work a traditional Monday-through-Friday schedule may have more possibilities than parents who have an irregular schedule or work second or third shifts. Families’ financial situation or relationship status (single parents vs. two-parent households) may also influence their child care decision. Each family must decide what suits their particular situation best, and sometimes their choices might change as their circumstances shift.

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About Agnieszka Moroni

Agnieszka Moroni, MOTR/L is a pediatric occupational therapist and a working mom of three children (and a fourth on the way!). She and her husband have relied on childcare centers since all their children were infants, and they greatly appreciate the teachers that have molded their children’s development in amazing ways. However, as an occupational therapist working in Early Intervention for nine years, Agnieszka has been overwhelmed by the number of families who have limited child care options due to their children’s additional needs. She has a heart for working parents and is heartbroken when parents are turned away by child care providers, drastically altering their financial situations or family dynamics. She advocates for families by volunteering on the Birth to Five Illinois Action Council and is in the process of opening TOTS Therapeutic Child Care Center, a daycare that will serve children with special needs and give working parents another alternative.