My perspective: What to look for in a child care center and how to make it affordable
Editor’s note: My Perspective is an occasional series asking subject matter experts their thoughts on different educational topics. In this edition, Annette Cacicedo, director of Kids Learning Center of South Dade, talks about what to look for in child care centers and ways to make it affordable for lower-income families.
Annette Cacicedo has been working at Kids Learning Center of South Dade in Miami for 17 years. Now the program’s director, she’s dealt with so many parents who asked so many questions that she is certain about this:
“Ninety-five percent of parents, I would say, have no idea what they would qualify for (financially) and don’t have any idea of what (financial assistance) really is out there,” she said. “They might see signs, advertisements, but are not really sure what is being advertised.”
Childcare is not cheap. According to the Center for American Progress, a Washington D.C. based think tank for economic and social issues, it can cost nearly 10% of a family’s income. For low-income families, the cost can climb to nearly 30% to 35%. For some families, that’s virtually unaffordable. Yet, families in Florida have access to it, thanks to a number of financial assistance programs.
While Step Up For Students does not service preschool-age children, except in some cases with the Gardiner Scholarship Program for children with certain special needs or unique abilities, we know that many families learn about our programs through these facilities or come from those and use a scholarship at our partner schools and more.
So, we thought we’d ask an expert on how anyone can afford preschool and what to look for when searching for one for your child. That’s where Cacicedo comes in.
When researching childcare centers (more on that later), make sure to inquire about financial options.
Many parents arrive at Kids Learning Center of South Dade with some idea of what to expect, Cacicedo said, thanks to word-of-mouth referrals and the information available on social media. After giving parents a tour of the facility, Cacicedo asks the most important question: How will you pay for this? If the parents don’t know, she directs them to outlets that provide financial assistance.
- Early Learning Coalition-School Readiness Program
- Early Learning Coalition-VPK Program for children 4 years old
- The Children’s Trust Child Scholarship.
Each serves children from birth to age 5 so the child can receive an early learning system.
The Florida Department of Children and Families website has a section for choosing a child care provider with a link to help parents find one in their area. The Early Learning Coalition shares the same link on its website.
Some childcare centers, like Kids Learning Center of South Dade, located in a low-income area in Miami, also have elementary and middle school programs. Cacicedo said her program has the capacity of serving 213 children from birth to eighth grade (in its Eureka location), with 80 children currently enrolled in the preschool program.
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While paying for childcare is critical, it is equally as important to find a center or program that you can trust. To accomplish that, you have to do your homework.
Research should include recommendations from parents. Social media is a good place to start, since parents and guardians share information about childcare services on platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
You should interview the center and ask plenty of questions, like these. Next, set up a visit to the center and look to see if the children and staff seem happy, are they interacting, what measures are taken to ensure the safety of the children and is it a clean and healthy environment.
Then, stop by unannounced to see if everything is the same as when they knew you were coming for a visit.
You can turn to the Florida Department of Children and Families for more guidance.