There’s nothing supercalifragilisticexpialidocious about finding daycare. The headlines are brimming with ho-hum news like daycare funding cuts and lack of spaces. Once you decide to go on the hunt for a caregiver—one with the stealth of a royal nanny and the warmth of a yoga-loving bestie—finding a star that will mind your little with serious T.L.C. will become a 24/7 obsession. Your mission begins with getting real about your budget and drawing up reasonable expectations within that budget. Ask yourself: What are my must-haves? What are my nice-to-haves? What can I let go?

Finding Daycare: The Options

Option 1: Child Care Centres

Whether you live in a small town or the big city, daycare centres are a popular choice that give little ones a structured day (including nap times and excursions) and plenty of play with new friends. Some are publicly funded and others are private, but they are licensed and monitored by regional authorities that monitor health and safety standards. If you’re lucky, you can score one inside the elementary school where your little will begin kindergarten, making after-care a breeze.

The let-downs: The guidelines are strict. If your toddler is sick, even just a bit, they’re not allowed to attend (which means more sick days for you as well) and their new friends equal more germs and an increased risk of colds and flus. The drop-off and pick-up times are firm and may include late fees by the minute. And the most popular centres, which can boast an on-staff early childhood educator, have a long waitlist. In fact, some moms sign up for a spot while they’re pregnant. Now that’s called planning ahead.

Option 2: Home Based Child Care Providers

Across Canada, home caregivers are usually not licensed and depending on the province, there may or may not be a governing authority monitoring their performance. However, there are regulations specific to each province which guide their practices. For example, in Ontario home caregivers are allowed up to 5 children (including their own) under 6 years old and only 2 children can be under 2 years old (including their own).

For example, in Ontario home caregivers are allowed up to 5 children (including their own) under 6 years old and only 2 children can be under 2 years old (including their own).[1] (Check your provincial resources for regulations specific to your location.) Here your little will score a smaller tribe along with more attention from the main caregiver, plus hanging out in a home may feel more comfortable for your babe. The added bonus: This is usually the most budget-friendly choice.

The let-downs: Your spidey senses should remain sharp. Keep an eye on how many children are under the provider’s care, regularly survey the cleanliness and function of their home and get to know the parents of the other children. It’s important to keep open communication so you can address questions and concerns with each other. Plus with no official rulebook, you will have to personally vet the provider with background checks and reliable references plus agree on daily procedures and expectations involving excursions, sick days, pick-up/drop-off and holidays.

Option 3: At-Home Caregivers

Whether a nanny is a live-in or not, this caregiver offers the opportunity for the most personalized service and attention. Your wee one gets to stay on their home turf and you get to avoid the rush of drop-off and pick-up. With fewer littles in their daily mix, there’s less chance of germs and if they do get sick, the caregiver can conveniently stay home with them. If you’re seeking the same one-on-one attention within a reasonable budget, another alternative is consulting an au pair agency who can help you find a pre-screened provider from a foreign country who provides childcare in exchange for room, board and small stipend.

The let-downs: Budget accordingly because nannies are generally the most expensive option. Note they do not require a license nor are they regulated by your province or territory so be vigilant during the screening process. Unless you have the gusto to get a nanny cam, there is no one to monitor or report on your baby’s day with a nanny or an au pair, plus their training isn’t standardized and may not include formal childcare education. In terms of au pairs, they are usually young and stay for a limited amount of time (around a year) and may not agree to a full-time workweek. If privacy is important for you, then a live-in nanny or au pair is likely not your best match.

Screening 101

Ask the right questions and make observations.

For All Caregivers

  • Tour the home or centre and ask lots of questions
  • Find out their philosophy on childcare, discipline, personal hygiene and safety; look for philosophies that match your own
  • Ask for references and interview other parents/clients
  • Find out about hours, holidays, late fees and sickness policies
  • Set up trial visits for an hour or two with your child to see the caregiver(s) at work; watch and listen to their interactions
  • Go with your gut during the interview process
  • Confirm the staff or provider are CPR and First Aid certified

For Nannies and Au Pairs

  • Find out if they drive and if so, check on their driving record
  • Set parameters for visitors, phone calls, and outings
  • Agree to a daily, hourly and overtime rates and nail down your vacation policy either directly or with their agency if they have one
  • Make it clear if you expect them to do light housework or grocery shopping as well
  • Leave a list of all emergency contacts, your pediatrician’s name and number, the number of a close neighbour in case of emergency and your cell number
  • Be sure to leave your home address and telephone number handy in case she needs to call 911, along with your baby’s name, age, known medical conditions, allergies and medications
  • Point out any First Aid kits and fire extinguishers in the house

Help our community and share your stories about finding daycare.

What was the most challenging part about your search? What was the most rewarding?

What resources did you use to help you find a daycare provider?

Once you chose your daycare option, how did you handle the transition for baby and for yourself?