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The memories of having my first child are truly priceless. The fear and anticipation of giving birth, and then watching him grow and change each day. Like many, I was a working mother when I had my first child, and although I enjoyed my maternity leave, I was soon faced with a decision: where to send him for childcare. It is hard to believe, but my first foray into researching daycare was seven years ago. Having had two more children, I have considered my options several times since.

With the recession, many families find that having one parent at home makes sense. But in an area where large numbers of households require two incomes, choosing proper childcare is necessary. You may be looking into daycare because you have a new baby, a family member is returning to work, or you are shopping around for something new. Whatever your situation, choosing daycare is difficult. Read below to learn more about two types, traditional and in-home.

"Traditional" Daycare Centers

What is a "traditional" daycare center really? In the most basic sense, traditional daycares are commercial childcare facilities not run out of a person's home. There is, of course, more to them than this. Here is a breakdown of some features of these types of facilities:

MUST Adhere to Virginia Licensing Requirements. Traditional daycare centers have to follow the guidelines laid out on the Department of Social Services (DSS) web site. These guidelines govern such things as teacher to student ratio, nutrition, progress reports and more.

Emphasis on Early Childhood Education. All ages, including infants, are placed in programs appropriate for their level of development. Programs may vary center to center. According to Terrie Green, Assistant Director at Minnieland Academy at Central Park, studies show that children coming from an educational background develop more social skills and work better in a multicultural atmosphere.

Security. Traditional daycare centers should have security policies and check-in/check-out procedures. Methods used include keypads, sign-in/sign-out sheets and security cameras.

Larger Staff. Larger centers can accommodate more kids. Larger staff also means more consistent supervision and no caregiver sick days. However, children must get used to a variety of people and if the staff works in shifts, children may see someone different every day.

Average Cost is Higher. Average cost in our area for one, full-time child ranges from $560-$1000 per month. For some families, this may not be feasible.

In-Home Daycare Centers

In-home daycare centers are childcare facilities operating out of someone's home. There is a lot of variation in the types of centers you may find, from fully licensed, multi-room facilities to smaller, non-licensed facilities. Here are a few features of in-home daycares:

Licensing is Optional. Per the DSS, in-home centers with less than 6 children don't require a license. Larger centers should pursue licensing and they must follow the same guidelines as traditional centers. Thoroughly check out in-home daycare centers and find what feels comfortable. Ask to see criminal background checks, certificates, references and TB test verification. You can find out who is and isn't licensed on the DSS website: http://www.dss.virginia.gov/facility/search/cc.cgi

"Home-like" Environment. According to Sadia Raja, owner of Sweet Little Cupcakes in Stafford, VA, many parents want their children to feel like they are at home. This is especially common when kids are under school age. At an in-home center, children can be socialized and learn routine in an informal setting.

Smaller Staff. The children see the same caregiver every day, providing them with comfort and consistency. On the downside, there is no back up for times when a caregiver gets sick or has an emergency.

Fewer Children. Having fewer kids allows your child to stand out more, and the provider gets to know his or her personality. Having a small group also means that all ages are intermingled, which may or may not be desirable for you.

Average Cost is Lower. In our area, one full-time child ranges from $400-$800 per month. This rate is more affordable, especially if you have multiple children who need care.

These are simply a few of the factors to consider when looking into daycares. No matter which you choose, be sure to take tours, conduct interviews and follow-up with references. Ask as many questions as you need. For more information and a listing of daycares in our area, visit www.daycare.com.

Stephanie lives in Stafford, VA, and is a mother of three, ages 3, 5, and 7. When not spending time with her children, she enjoys writing, cooking, history, and learning about pretty much everything.

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Pouches' Community Corner

Adoptive parents in Fredericksburg now have a new partner on their journey to a healthy family. In 2016, Children’s Home Society was awarded a $125,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Social Services to extend their Richmond area post-adoptive services to the Fredericksburg area.

ChildrensHomeSociety

Now CHS is looking to find adoptive families in the area who need support before they hit a crisis point. “It doesn’t matter which agency they adopted from, or when that happened,” said Buckheit. “We want to offer a lifetime of support to adoptive families in the Fredericksburg area, especially those who haven’t been aware of our services in the past.”

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