Five Biggest Mistakes When Choosing Child Care

Neglecting to consider your family's long-term needs. Changing child-care arrangements is hard on both you and your child. That is why it is important to consider your family's long-term needs before settling on a particular arrangement. Will the quiet home day-care environment that is ideal for your sleepy newborn be appropriate when she's a rambunctious toddler? Will your child's space in the company day-care center disappear if you decide to change jobs? Is the nanny you are thinking of hiring committed to your family for the long term or for just a year or two? These are the types of questions you need to consider before settling on a particular child-care arrangement.

Not checking the caregiver's references carefully enough. It is tempting to rely on your gut instinct when evaluating a particular child-care arrangement, but you owe it to your child to check things out a little more thoroughly. This means checking the references of the nanny, home day-care provider or day-care center staffer who will care for your child. Because many people are reluctant to bad-mouth a particular child-care provider out of fear that they will be sued for slander, you really have to read between the lines when you are conducting a reference check. Bottom line? If the person providing the reference is less than enthusiastic about the caregiver's ability to care for young children, start looking for someone else.

Failing to understand your responsibilities as an employer. The moment you hire a nanny or other in-home caregiver, you automatically become her employer -- at least in the eyes of the IRS. This means you are responsible for finding out if she is legally entitled to work in the United States; paying her the minimum wage and complying with other state and federal labor laws; withholding social security and medicare taxes, the Federal Unemployment Tax and federal income tax from her pay; carrying Worker's Compensation Insurance (where applicable); and notifying the government that this person is working for you. Just a quick word of warning: You should not assume that you are off the hook if your caregiver happens to work for you on a part-time basis. Even if she makes less than $1,000 from you per calendar quarter, the government might still consider her to be your employee.

While there are plenty of other issues to consider when choosing child care, you will be well on your way to making a good decision if you manage to avoid making these five mistakes. Good luck!

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