Finding Child Care in the Merrimack Valley

By Heddi Nieuwsma

My son enjoying snack time with his buddies at daycare.

My maternity leave ends in a few weeks, so we’re all gearing up for the big transition. I’ll be heading back to work, and the boys will be at daycare. Our 4-year old eagerly awaits his return to preschool, but we’re not sure how the baby will adapt to his new surroundings and caregivers.

While I’m concerned about how the little guy will handle those first few days and weeks, I’m much less nervous than when I returned to work after my first maternity leave. The main reason for my calmer attitude is that we’re using the same child care provider we know and trusted for our first son when he was an infant.

As parents know, choosing a child care provider is a huge decision with many factors to consider. When we first started looking for child care, I remember sleepless nights worrying about how I could possibly leave my son with someone else. Now that we’ve found a great provider, I feel so much better about making the transition back to work. After we complete a few practice runs, I’m hopeful that we’ll all be ready—or at least as ready as we can be!

To help parents find child care in the Merrimack Valley, I wanted to share some advice and resources, some of which assisted us in finding our current child care provider.

Identifying Child Care Providers

  • National accrediting agencies: The National Association for the Education of Young Children accredits programs that meet various standards for such areas as curriculum and teacher qualifications. You can use the Accredited Program Search tool to find programs in your area.
    For family-based child care providers, check out the National Association for Family Child Care.
  • State offices: These offices can provide a list of state-licensed child care providers, as not all receive national accreditation. In addition, these offices also register complaints and conduct site visits.
    • Massachusetts: The state department of Early Education and Care has info online about licensed programs. Also, you can call the state’s regional offices and request the results from recent site visits conducted at a particular child care provider’s facility. For programs in Lowell, you can call the Worcester office at 508-798-5180.
    • New Hampshire: Unlike Massachusetts, the state of New Hampshire has an online search engine that lets you identify child care providers and see the results of recent site visits, including any violations that may have occurred.

Visiting Child Care Providers

You’ve probably done this already, but I recommend an unscheduled, drop-in visit at each of the child care providers you’re considering. For example, at one child care center we walked right in because the alarm was broken and the door was unlocked. We had to find someone to show us around. Not a good first impression!

Affordable Child Care

Cost is a huge factor when weighing child care options. Monthly child care costs can feel like a second mortgage or rental payment, especially for families with infants and/or multiple children. Low-income families face an even greater financial burden. Census data from 2010 estimates that families below the poverty line paid 40 percent of their family income on child care, compared to 7 percent for families at or above the poverty line.

Furthermore, recent survey data confirms what most of us already know—we live in one of the least-affordable states for child care. According to the National Association for Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRA), Massachusetts ranked among the top 10 least-affordable states for both full-time infant and 4-year old care in a center-based facility for 2010. In comparison, New Hampshire’s average child care costs were considerably less, as it ranked near the median for both age groups.

If you need assistance paying for child care, check out the links below for more information about programs in your state.

  • Massachusetts: Child Care Circuit (a child care resource, referral and training agency) has info about income guidelines and waiting lists for subsidized child care.
  • New Hampshire: The state’s Department of Health and Human Services has info on child care scholarships.

Additional Links

As always, if you have any additional advice, experiences or resources to share, please leave a comment below!

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