By REBECCA SLOAN
WARREN -- Resolving to stay home with a child or to send a child to day care is perhaps one of the most agonizing decisions modern-day parents face.
As part of this decision-making process, parents must question their priorities, their finances and the needs of their child, but this is only the beginning of an even longer list of considerations.
Once a parent has decided to send a child to day care, an army of new of questions arises.
What should parents look for when shopping around for a facility? What kinds of state and federal regulations should a day-care center be following?
How much should a parent expect to pay for quality care, and what daily activities will a child participate in?
Helpful tips: Virginia Hill, who has been in the day-care business for 45 years and is the director of Hillyer Children's Center in Warren, offered some tips.
"Parents should schedule an interview and a tour of the facility," Hill said. "The staff and the director should be very accommodating and open to questions."
While touring, Hill said, parents should make sure the facility has a posted operating license from the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services in Canton.
"It must be from the city of Canton. The Canton office licenses all day care," Hill explained.
The day-care staff should also be able to show proof that the facility meets local building and fire codes and that it has a food service license or a food service exemption.
Facilities with food service licenses are permitted to serve food cooked on the premises, while facilities with food service exemptions rely on a catering service for meals.
Hill said parents should also question disciplinary measures.
"Ask what the facility's rules are regarding discipline. It is illegal to physically punish a child in any way or deprive a child of a meal," she said.
Safety first: Lynan Buente, vice president of corporate development for Wee Care Day Care and Learning Centre, which has facilities in Boardman, Howland and Youngstown, said that during a tour of a facility, parents should pay special attention to safety issues.
"Safety should be a No. 1 one concern. Are there outlet safety covers on the walls? Are there first aid kits? Are play materials nontoxic? Are there extension cords that look like they could cause a problem? What is the outdoor play area like?" Buente said. "Some facilities, including Wee Care, have cameras that monitor each room and videotapes are saved on file so there is never a question about safety."
Buente also said parents should take some time to observe day-care staff with children.
"Observe the staff's behavior toward the children. Are staff members down on their knees talking to children at their level, or are they towering above the children talking loudly and disrespectfully? Is there an atmosphere of patience and respect? Is the staff well-groomed and dressed professionally?"
If any of these things are out of place, red lights should be going off in parents' minds," Buente said.
Checking out the day care's curriculum is also important.
"The curriculum should not be designed for just one age group but rather different ages," Buente said.
Although parents should take a close look at a facility's curriculum, they should be aware that requirements relating to the educational background of day-care staff are flexible.
"Some have four- or two-year degrees in early childhood development, but many do not. The laws are very flexible pertaining to the educational background of staff," Hill said. "Those who do not have degrees are required to attend 15 hours of lectures each year on child care."
Requirements: The Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services has set specific requirements for staff and space.
For example, a minimum of one staff member should be in charge of every five babies, and there should be no more than 12 infants in a group.
And there should be 35 square feet of space for every child, and the outdoor portion of the facility must be fenced in.
Cost factor: Parents also must consider cost. Since the sole income of most centers is tuition, the price of day care can often be high.
At most centers, the younger the child, the more expensive the day care.
At Hillyer Children's Center, for example, a parent can expect to pay $115 per week for infant care, $110 per week for care of a toddler and $100 per week for care of a preschooler.
Some centers are more flexible than others when it comes on weekly or hourly rates. For example, some centers charge a weekly rate for infant care, and the rate cannot be adjusted even if a parent decides to keep a baby home for a day or two.
"The reason for this is infants are often assigned a crib at a day-care center, and that particular infant is the only one who can use the crib. For another infant to use the crib, it must be completely sanitized, something that takes time and costs money," Hill explained.
Parents who enroll their child in corporate day care can sometimes save a lot of money.
Wee Care Day Care offers corporate day care to students, faculty and alumni of Youngstown State University as well as employees of Humility of Mary Health Partners.
"What a parent is charged for corporate day care is based on their income," Buente said. "The savings can be substantial. An employee may pay as little as 5 percent of what someone outside the company pays for the same service."
Buente said corporate day care is designed to reduce employee absenteeism and to improve employee retention.
Guilty conscience: Once a child is enrolled in a day-care facility, parents sometimes have a hard time dealing with guilty feelings.
"Even if parents feel guilty and feel like they should be home with their child, it is important for them not to get upset when they drop a child off at a facility," Buente said. "Sometimes parents will just sob when they drop a child off, and this only makes the child feel worse."
Buente said parents often feel better if they spend some time at a facility observing their child.
"It lets them see that the child is having a good time, and then they don't feel so bad about having their child in day care," Buente said. "At Wee Care, we also send a daily report home with each child telling what they did that day. This helps the child and parent stay connected."
Buente recommends starting a child in a day-care program gradually.
"The younger the child, the easier it will be for him or her to adjust, but usually we tell parents to start out slow. Don't leave a child for eight hours on the first day. Build up to that time," Buente said.