Daycare decisions

Finding the right child care arrangement can be overwhelming. Here’s help sorting through your options

Tracy Chappell 0

Daycare centre
Your child arrives at the centre to a chorus of hellos from her pals, puts her backpack in her cubby and embarks on a day of games, stories, crafts and learning.

All daycare centres in Canada are licensed by the provincial government for health, care and safety standards, and can be run as non-profit or for-profit organizations. Expect structured days, with regulated outdoor play, stimulating, age-appropriate activities and healthy meals and snacks.

Upside
• In most provinces and territories, the centre’s director and a percentage of the staff must be trained in early childhood education.
• Centres are required to follow Canada’s Food Guide.
• Children are often divided into rooms by age range (infant, toddler, preschooler), so activities are geared to your child’s stage of development.
• The centre setting prepares kids for the classroom, getting them comfortable with a structured program and behaviour expectations.
• Caregivers have a daily program to follow and clear procedures for handling things like discipline and potty training.
• In some centres, parents can sit on the board of directors and have a say in policy planning.
• If you have a concern about a policy or staff member, you have options. First, speak with the centre’s director. If you need to escalate the issue, contact the ministry in charge of child care in your province and ask for an investigation.

Downside
• Wait lists can be months (many months) long. It’s often recommended to get on a list during your pregnancy.
• Kids may get sick more often with so many children and the inevitable germs coming together each day.
• Centres are known for their rigid policies (some charge a dollar per minute for late pickups) and firm stay-home rules when kids are sick.
• Daycare centres can be pricey, particularly if they are for-profit.
• If staff turnover is high, kids may have difficulty forming strong connections with their caregivers.
• The structured, large-group setting might be overwhelming or intimidating for some kids.

Cost Approximately $25 to $45 per day for an infant, $20 to $38 for a toddler, and $18 to $30 for a preschooler, supplying diapers and wipes yourself. Keep in mind that this fee breakdown is only a range. In major cities, it is not unheard of to pay $75 a day or (gulp) more. Subsidies are available for a certain number of spots, so be sure to investigate that option.
Home Daycare Provider
Her front windows are decorated with vibrant finger paintings and the driveway is full of toys. You see her pulling a wagon, singing along with a group of kids and wonder if they’re all hers. More likely, she’s a home care provider.

Home care may be licensed, meaning the caregiver, her home and her practices meet government standards and are subject to regular visits, just like daycare centres. However, home care providers are under no obligation to be licensed, so some operate on their own.

Upside
• A homey atmosphere and single caregiver may be a better choice for some kids.
• Caregivers can often be flexible with pickup and drop-off times. They may also offer part-time care, which can be tough to find at daycare centres.
• If your home care provider is good in the kitchen, your child could enjoy wonderful home-cooked meals and snacks each day.
• Quality home care may be easy to locate in your neighbourhood through word of mouth or local advertising — without a long wait.
• Home care providers and their “kids” often become a tight-knit group.
• A flexible schedule and small number of kids mean spontaneity is possible — like watching the dump truck parked down the street, or spending the whole morning playing in the backyard sprinkler.

Downside
• If your caregiver gets sick or goes on vacation, it’s up to you to have a backup plan.
• When different age groups are being cared for together, all activities may not be geared to your child’s level of development.
• You have to be vigilant about the kind of care, discipline, nutrition and activity your child is receiving, since home care providers are not closely supervised.
• Because the caregiver is in her home, there may be outside distractions, such as phone calls or visitors, that take attention away from your child.
• One caregiver may be pulled in many different directions (one child has to use the potty, one just splashed paint on the carpet), with no one to lend a hand.
• If you run into problems with your unlicensed home care situation, it is up to you to work the issue out, or pull your child from the home. If your caregiver is licensed, you can contact the ministry in charge of child care in your province or territory for assistance.

Cost About $24 to $45 per day, including meals and snacks, supplying diapers and wipes yourself.

Nanny
You get ready for work, have a family breakfast, then kiss your kids goodbye while they’re still frolicking in their jammies. After work, you arrive home to dinner already in the oven, so you can kick off your shoes and play with your kids until it’s ready.

Nannies offer the convenience of child care in your home; they can accommodate unusual schedules that other options cannot. A nanny may live with you or on her own, and together you create a contract that satisfies your needs. You can find nannies through word of mouth or advertising, or enlist the help of an agency that screens candidates and helps with paperwork (the process can take several months, so give yourself plenty of time).

Upside
• Ideally, you choose a nanny who is a good fit for your family’s philosophies and needs.
• No stress that a late-running meeting or traffic jam leaves your kids stranded at daycare.
• You determine the daily menu and agenda, which can include classes or playgroups.
• You don’t have to call in sick if your child is ill.
• Some nannies cook and clean, leaving you more time to spend with your child.
• A nanny can become a valued member of your family, forming a loving bond with your child.
• A nanny who does some cleaning and meal prep may be a more convenient and economical choice if you have two or more kids.

Downside
• Experienced nannies can be very expensive.
• If you hire from abroad, your nanny’s language skills could be a concern, as well as her familiarity with Canadian customs and practices.
• Your child’s socialization can suffer, since he won’t have other children to play with unless it’s specially arranged.
• There are no licensing or training requirements for nannies in Canada.
• The trust factor is huge — you have to feel secure in your nanny’s word on how the day has been spent.
• If you go the live-in route, consider how you will feel about having another adult in your home 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Cost A live-in nanny arriving from abroad may be paid about minimum wage, approximately $275 to $300 each week, after deducting room and board. As her employer, you must remit employee deductions as well as your share of Canada Pension Plan and Employment Insurance — totalling as much as $75 per week over and above her take-home pay. Nannies living outside the home charge $475 to $600 a week, depending on their experience.

Most agencies have a 90-day guarantee to replace the nanny or offer some type of refund if you are unhappy, and some provide ongoing support. You are the nanny’s employer, so if you have problems you cannot resolve, you have to go through the proper legal channels for firing an employee.

Note: Data on child care vary greatly, even within a province or territory. Check locally for what to expect in your area.

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