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Finding Daycare in Ottawa

Finding great childcare was the biggest stress for me while on maternity leave. You know the day is coming when you’ll go back to work and have to leave your little one in someone else’s care but who?
Some are fortunate to have family who will step in and takeover care. Others make the difficult decision to stay home, work from home or have their spouse stay home. For the rest of us we need to find care.

There are lots of different options in Ottawa which is great. Licensed daycare centres, homecare, hiring a nanny and private daycare centres. It’s important to figure out what your needs are (full time vs part time, location, hours, cost) before looking for care.

One of the biggest misconceptions about finding daycare in Ottawa is once you apply to the Ottawa Daycare Registry a spot will open up when you need to go back to work. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.

There are so many people vying for that one spot at your dream daycare and spots are given first to people with children with siblings in their care then to people who they know and finally to someone on the list. If you want that spot you better be the person that they know.

When I started my daycare journey I talked to many people frustrated by finding care. I started calling my top daycares and mentioning I needed a spot 6 months away. I met one women who said go to an open house, ask to visit get them to see your face. I called one centre and asked their advice, they stated call all the time (I called every 3 weeks) and make sure when a spot comes available that they think of your kid first.

In the meantime I started looking at home daycares. Home daycare was a huge eye opener. With my toddler in a daycare centre there are 3 adults to 10 children. In a home daycare it can be 5 to 1 not including the persons own children, that’s a lot. With unlicensed daycare you need to make sure things like criminal checks are done and ask a lot of questions. What do they use to clean? do they know first aid and CPR? What do they do in the event of an emergency things like that.

You also really need to look at the environment. I looked at a few where the children played and slept in a room the size of a closet. I saw ones where the basement was dark and smelly. Others where they had babies sitting watching tv. I heard of one daycare where the women covered the walls in tin foil because she didn’t want grubby hands on her walls. You really need to go into it thinking of what your ideal daycare scenario is and try to find the closest. I found a wonderful home daycare that was on the ground floor of a home with lots of room, the children slept in playpens in an upstairs bedroom, they participated in playgroups and storytime and did crafts, it was a wonderful environment. Like many things you really need to get out there and check them out.

I know of a few nannies in town who do a wonderful job and have met some women who opted for a nanny share. This is when a few women get together and hire a nanny to look after their children either at one persons home or split between a couple homes. It seems to work well with people working part time. The cost was mentioned to me as about $14 an hour for care about the same cost as a daycare centre.

When looking for care Kijiji seems to be the place to look. Read some ads or post you’re own and start emailing with a potential care giver before arranging a meeting. Go with you’re gut, all the information in the world about a care giver can’t replace you’re instincts. There are agencies around town like Wee Watch you can contact as well for more information.

Talk to other parents at playgroups and find out who they are using, talk to the facilitator and get their advice. Often they know a few caregivers in your neighborhood and can make recommendations.

When it comes to daycare persistence really is key. I did get my son into my top daycare and they said is was because they knew I needed care and I was the first person they offered it to because I was on top of their list.

Finding someone to provide the quality of care you require may take a few weeks or months to find. There really is no too early to look time. If your return to work date is several months away let the care provider know that way if they have a spot coming up or are interested in taking on another child they can keep you in mind. Check references and if you are going to visit a caregiver go when they are busy not when the centre is closed and cleaned up. You want to see what its like during the worst of their day. I usually would go around 11 before they have lunch and visit a few times to make sure its the right spot.

I’m really glad that I did my research and found the right care for us. My child is in an amazing environment with caring thoughtful early childhood educators. I know he is well taken care of, fed healthy meals and is in a safe environment. When you go back to work you need piece of mind so spend some time and make sure you find the right spot for your child.