It’s time to show you a pre-screening process to help you find a daycare near you. This pre-screening process is the second part of the series on how to find a daycare for your baby.
On the first part of this series, we went over your daycare options, when to start looking for a daycare, and what to look for in a daycare, which included steps like identifying your needs and sorting those needs by must-have, want to have, and nice to have.
It’s better to create your list of daycare needs before pre-screening a daycare. If you haven’t identified your needs yet, I suggest you going back to the previous post on how to find a daycare.
The pre-screening process
The term “pre-screening” may sound weird, especially if you’re just trying to find a daycare, not a job. But, besides my human resources background, this pre-screening process has its benefits.
When you pre-screen, you are conducting a quick research to eliminate those daycares that are not a good fit for your needs. It’s an easy process that saves you time (and gasoline) during the interview or touring process.
But first, we need to make a list of possible daycares to pre-screen. To start building your list, do the following:
- Brain Dump – Write those daycares that you already have in mind; those that have caught your attention while driving.
- Word of Mouth – Ask family members, friends, and even co-workers for referrals. Referrals are always a great way to go. It eliminates the guessing part and reduces the time spent pre-screening those daycares.
- Google it – Yes, use Google to find a daycare near you. I normally search for the following:
- “daycares near me”
- “daycares near zip code” – replace the words “zip code” with your real home or work zip code (i.e. “daycares near 95210”)
- “child cares near me”
- “child cares near zip code” – remember to replace the words zip code.
Now, with a list of possible daycares, you are ready to start the pre-screening process…
Visit the daycare’s website
In order to find a daycare near you, we need to go online.
Don’t limit your search thinking that only daycare centers have a web page. Nowadays, it’s easier and affordable to build a website which allows home daycares to have their online presence too.
When you visit a company’s website, you get a sense of the brand and its culture. And that’s also true with daycares. It doesn’t matter how big or small the website is, but the way it makes you feel. Play around on their website, look at their photos, read the information posted, and think about if you can picture your baby there.
A home daycare that I used had a website with information about the daycare and its staff. They also had a section with pictures of thank you notes they received from previous moms. Those notes showed me the type of relationships they built with the kids and the kids’ moms. And that was a huge plus for me! That’s information I learned even before meeting them.
If you like what you see while visiting their website, make sure to write their phone number and address. It will save you time later on when you get ready to tour the daycare.
Search the internet
Type the daycare name on your browser’s search bar and see what comes up. You can’t believe everything you find online but you may need to reconsider a daycare that shows a large number of complaints.
Make sure to read their online reviews. Especially those with three stars or under. Remember, you want to find a daycare near you but you also want to find the right one.
Search for their location(s) if you haven’t yet. By using the street view from Google Maps, I feel like I am right there in front of the daycare without leaving my home. If you haven’t used it yet, go to Instant Street View and enter the daycare’s address.
Take advantage of social media
Go to their social media pages and take a look at what other people are saying.
Just by checking the daycare’s Facebook page, you get an idea of what type of information that daycare is sharing with the public, how fast they respond to questions or comments, and how other people feel about them.
I prefer to use Facebook pages but you don’t have to. You can visit their other social media pages to see what they are tweeting about or what pictures they are posting on Instagram.
Check their inspection records
This great resource is one of the most important tasks that you need to complete in order to find a daycare near you. I strongly encourage you not to skip this step.
Your state’s government office has a database that includes most of the child cares in your area. That database includes the results of regular inspections that they conduct to the child cares. Depending on the state, you can find inspection dates, reports, citations, violations, risk levels, correction actions, revoked licenses, and much more. And guess what? All that information is easy to access and completely free!
But, where should you start?
There is a specific government’s department within your state that handles that area of child care services. I can’t give you the exact department name in your state because each state calls it in a different way. For example, in:
- Texas, it’s called the Department of Family and Protective Services.
- California, it’s the Department of Social Services
- Florida, it’s named the Department of Children and Families
- Iowa, it’s the Department of Human Services
- Georgia, they call it the Department of Early Care and Learning
Yes, they are all different. But with Google’s help, you should be able to find it within seconds. Actually, that’s how I found those other department’s names outside of Texas. For instance, I did a quick search for “California department find child care”, and I immediately got the correct information.
The government department is normally one of the first results you get. If you are not sure, look for a “.gov” (instead of .com) on their URL or address link. That’s the case of Georgia:
Keep in mind that some states like Texas may not have the “.gov”:
Keep in mind while reviewing the records
While checking the inspection records, don’t be surprised if you see quite a few daycares with violations.
With my second daughter, I remember feeling frustrated thinking that I would not be able to find a daycare near me. Then, I found a licensed home daycare that had been in business for years, inspected several times, and had zero violations.
Thinking that it was too good to be true, I pushed it to the end of the list of daycares to visit. When I finally visited that home daycare, I immediately fell in love with the sweet caregivers, beautiful environment, and how happy the kids were.
I know that I said it before but take your time to complete this step. Seriously. Pay attention to what’s included in those records. Nothing can ever prevent every single problem but it should at least avoid you many headaches down the road.
And before moving to the next step, make it a priority to not only find a daycare near you but to find a licensed daycare. Here in Texas, the government sorts the daycares by licensed child care center, licensed child care home, registered child care home, and listed family home.
Why do I prefer a licensed daycare? Because they are regularly inspected by the government to ensure they meet the minimum standards. Registered child care homes are inspected less often than a licensed daycare. And listed family homes are not inspected at all unless the government is alerted to a negative situation.
Give them a call
Call those daycares that remain on your list.
There are two main reasons to call them. First, you want to know how they handle the conversation over the phone. Second, you want to get basic but key information before moving forward. That will save you time.
While you have the caregiver or representative on the phone, pay attention to details such as:
- Professionalism: How did she answer the phone? Did she sound mad or frustrated? Is she talking to other people while you are asking questions?
- Friendliness: Being a child care provider is a difficult and busy job with a huge responsibility. But, is she still trying to be helpful? Is she answering all your questions? Is she rushing you to finish? Does she sound annoyed by your questions?
- Background: Were babies crying in the background and nobody seemed to be calming them down? Do the kids sound happy, playing, talking or even singing?
What questions to ask during the call
Make a list of five to seven basic questions and have it ready before calling the daycare. Ask questions with the purpose to get important information that can help you decide if that daycare should stay on your list or not.
Those basic questions should be short but important to you. Use closed questions for this step and leave the open-ended questions for later. After all, they are taking care of kids so we don’t want to keep them on the phone for too long.
I normally ask questions like:
- Do you have any openings for infants?
- What’s the weekly fee for an infant?
- When does the weekly fee drop? And what would be the new rate?
- Is there any registration fee?
- Do I have to pay any additional fee such as supply fee?
- Do you provide discounts? (i.e. Corporate discount, family discount, military discount)
- What are the hours of operations? (if you didn’t see them online)
Use those questions as a guide to come up with key questions for your own situation. Make sure to write down the answers so, in the end, you will be able to compare daycares and refer to your notes if you need to. Once you are done with your questions, thank them for their time and call the next daycare on your list.
This pre-screening process should help you eliminate a few more daycares from your list. Mainly because they are out of your budget or don’t offer the must-have services you need.
By the way, if you haven't identified your needs yet, head over How to Find a Daycare for Your Baby.
Many daycares offer you the convenience to schedule a tour online or they will offer it to you over the phone. Even if you liked all that you heard, don’t schedule a tour. I’ll talk about it in the third part of this series, Daycare Tour.
Final thoughts on finding a daycare near you
We have covered a lot of great information in this part of the blog series! You have learned how to pre-screen a daycare by visiting the daycare’s web page, searching for comments and reviews online, and using social media to your advantage.
You also learned where to find the results of the inspection records conducted by the state. It’s by far the most important step to find a daycare near you. So, make sure to look at those records before moving forward to the next section, the daycare tour.