When it comes to finding quality child care, many choices and decisions

March 27, 2014

The Patriot Ledger

Michele Benyue couldn't be happier with the home-based day care her 2-year-old son attends. But finding the right setting for him was stressful.

"It was a pretty huge decision and nerve-racking for us," said Benyue, a Bridgewater third-grade teacher whose son has serious food allergies. "He is our pride and joy. We wanted a safe place where there would be a lot of focus on him and that was not too hectic."

When it comes to child care, all working parents want the same thing: a caregiver and setting where their children will thrive. But the choices can seem endless, and parents often wrestle with the pros and cons of smaller family-based day care, larger center-based care or having someone come to their home.

"It's a diverse system where there are an array of options, if you can afford them," said Patty Hnatiuk, professor of early education at Wheelock College in Boston. "Massachusetts has among the most rigorous standards in the country, which helps to assure better quality."

In addition to considering affordability and convenience, parents first must decide whether to hire a caregiver to care for children in their own home or whether to take children to a provider. Outside the home, two types of care are available: a family day care with one adult for a small number of children or a child care center with multiple adults who care for many children.

Jenna Gavula, a graphic designer at Hasbro Industries, explored all the options before deciding on a home-based day care for her 22-month-old daughter, Cora, who has been at Jackie's Day Care in Hopkinton since she was 3 months old.

"She's my first child, and I wanted to understand all the options," said Gavula, 34, of Hopkinton. "I received a lot of referrals, met with nannies and visited family and center day cares."

Sometimes, parents select different options for their children as they grow, Hnatiuk said. They may choose the intimacy and flexibility of a home environment for an infant and toddler and the stimulation and structure of a center for a preschool child. When they have more than two children, parents may consider a nanny or in-home provider more affordable and convenient.

Parents usually start the process by asking friends, neighbors and co-workers and by doing online searches. They also consult referral services, which are particularly useful when parents are new to a community, need child care financial assistance or want to better understand the options.

In Massachusetts, parents can search online through regional Child Care Resource and Referral agencies, funded by the state Department of Early Education and Care. In addition to detailed information about family and center-based options, parent also can check for training and licenses on the site's Professional Qualifications Registry and for quality on its Quality Rating and Improvement System. If parents want a provider to come to their home, they can contact nanny placement agencies, as well as student employment offices at colleges and universities.

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