As parents of little children, we often feel torn between our two different roles, pulled in two different directions. We carry the weight of our responsibilities in the wider community and world, managing our tasks and to-do lists, interacting with other adults and striving to fulfill expectations. And at home with our children, we recognize the priority of our kids' needs and care; for a relatively short but critical time, we are at the center of their whole universe. Our anxieties, moods and stress levels can either light up or darken their world, like sunshine or clouds in the sky. On one hand, we must get our necessary work done; on the other hand, our children deserve to be truly seen, known and loved by the ones they adore. They need thoughtful nurturing and focused attention during this vital stage of development called early childhood.
Much ink has been spilled in recent years on the topic of this tension, sometimes referred to as work-life balance, especially regarding motherhood, although it is a very real issue for fathers too (rightfully so). I don't have any answers or really much of value to add to the conversation about work-life balance, although I think it's important to keep talking about it and brainstorming solutions as a society. But I do have a list of practical resources to offer Indy parents who are searching for high-quality childcare options, especially in the downtown area. (I found a childcare resource page on Indy's Child Parenting Magazine's website, but it listed daycare centers in Hamilton County only: Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville and Westfield, which is woefully inadequate for a publication that purports to serve our entire city, not just the northern suburbs.) This is such a stressful life decision, figuring out who will take care of our children. Some families choose to have one partner stay home with the kids--whether it's the mother or father--and manage their budget accordingly. Some families have one parent working part-time and another full-time, and arranging childcare for two or three days per week however they can manage it. Some families hire a nanny; others choose a daycare center. Regardless of our choices on this issue at different stages of parenthood, we're all making sacrifices of one kind or another, and we all tend to feel stressed at times and wonder if we're really doing the right thing: for our kids and for the quality of our family life. I hope this list will be of practical help to alleviate some of that tension.
If you are looking for a childcare center
1. Helpful resources:
Word of mouth is the primary way people find childcare they trust; you can talk to friends, neighbors, extended family, people at church, co-workers, people you volunteer with, and ask for their recommendations. But this can be a giant problem if you're moving to a new city from out-of-state; you might not know anyone, but you need childcare right away because your new job starts soon. I've talked with several families in this situation who have recently moved to urban Indianapolis from cities like Philadelphia, San Francisco or Washington, D.C.
Did you know each state has a rating system for childcare providers? Indiana's program is called Paths to Quality and gives ratings to providers based on four levels: 1) health & safety, 2) learning environments, 3) planned curriculum, and 4) national accreditation. Its website states, "Paths to QUALITY™ is Indiana’s statewide rating system for early care and education programs. It is a free resource to help families make informed decisions and to help early care and education providers improve the quality of their programs."
Childcare Answers is a free childcare referral service for Marion County and surrounding areas. You can search an online database (a bit tedious in format) or speak with a representative by phone to find the right childcare provider for your needs. It's a program of the Indiana FSSA (Family and Social Services Administration), and it also has a legislative action center that advocates for early education to be prioritized and supported. The office is located in the English Foundation building on Alabama Street across from Riley Towers. Speaking with Childcare Answers on the phone may be your best option if you would prefer a licensed in-home childcare provider. In-home daycare providers tend to be smaller, accepting usually fewer than ten children; they might not have a quality rating because of size; and they are harder to find because of a lack of online information. If they are trusted providers with a good reputation, they also might not have any openings. As one neighborhood mom told me recently, her baby boy is one of about six children at an in-home daycare in Midtown, and every time a spot opens up there, it's immediately filled. "I could make a lot of money if I quit my teaching job and opened up a daycare in my home!" she joked.
Child Care Finder appears to be a new, advanced online search tool also powered by the Indiana FSSA, with a great option called "On My Route" that works with Google Maps to find a childcare provider on your route to and from work, with the ability to select filters for children's ages, days and times, and quality ratings. I tested it; pretty fun! Just for the sake of example, I chose a route from Irvington to Monument Circle, and selected "infants" for the age category and Level 3 for the quality rating, and the search returned 5 results.
Nextdoor, the neighborhood-based social network, is an effective way to find recommendations for childcare centers (or nannies and babysitters) from your neighbors. I've seen quite a few threads about local daycares, preschools, or finding a nanny. Everyone tends to have different opinions, past experiences and ideological preferences, so be prepared to take it all with a grain of salt, but Nextdoor can be an extremely useful resource.
2. Top-rated childcare centers:
IUPUI Center for Young Children: This childcare center on IUPUI's campus is open to the public, but offers priority enrollment for parents who are "faculty, staff or students affiliated with IUPUI or partner hospitals, Indianapolis Zoo, IU Health, and NCAA." CYC receives glowing praise from parents whose children have attended its programs, designed for kids aged 6 weeks through 5 years old. However, please be aware there is a substantial wait list at CYC, especially in the infant and toddler categories; some parents apply to the infant program as soon as they have a positive pregnancy test in hand--or even before. I spoke with CYC administrative representative Kate Hayes about the wait list process; it is pretty complex, depending on the high-demand age categories, priority for IU-affiliated families, and expected due dates for new babies who already have siblings enrolled. Ms. Hayes tries to give interested parents the most information humanly possible about the length of the wait list, including how many families are on the list for that specific category. She explains that sometimes the process can go much more quickly than expected, and also refers them to Childcare Answers to find alternative options if needed. You can submit an online application or call Ms. Hayes for more information and to schedule a tour of the center.
Day Early Learning Centers were called "Day Nursery" for the past hundred years until they changed the name in 2014. There are ten locations in Central Indiana and the majority of them are nationally accredited, or rated Level 4 by the Paths to Quality system. Day Early Learning is a nonprofit organization partnered with United Way. It accepts vouchers and offers scholarships and financial assistance for its range of programs for children 6 weeks to 6 years old. Three centers that have received a lot of positive reviews from parents are located on the campus of Methodist Hospital, next to the canal at the State Government Center, and at the Federal Building (near the Indiana War Memorial). Tours are available most days of the week; contact the center to schedule.
Roberts Park UMC Shalom Daycare: This daycare program is located at Roberts Park United Methodist Church, a historic church built in 1876 and located in the Lockerbie Square neighborhood near Mass Ave about five blocks away from Monument Circle. The website states, "With more than 30 staff members, our ratio of children to caregivers/teachers ranges from 4:1 for infants to 12:1 for 5-year-olds." A Shalom Daycare representative told me they have a couple spots open right now in the infant & toddler rooms which is highly unusual for them; normally they have a wait list for those categories.
DayStar Childcare and Infant Learning Center: This program is a ministry of Englewood Christian Church on the near east side, on Rural Street just north of Washington Street. DayStar seeks to "provide quality, affordable childcare for families with children 6 weeks to 12 years old." It is rated Level 3 by Paths to Quality. DayStar told me it currently has a wait list that is filled to capacity and will not add any more families to the list until spring 2017, barring any unforeseen circumstances.
East 10th Street UMC Little Dove Day Care: This program is operated by--you guessed it--East 10th Street United Methodist Church, offering daycare for infants and children ages 6 weeks to five years old. "Little Dove Daycare Registered Ministry provides quality childcare, educational activities, nutritious meals, intergenerational activities, and a chance to learn and grow in a safe environment to all children regardless of their families' ability to pay." A representative told me that Little Dove has a wait list for the infant & toddler rooms and estimated a wait time of 2-3 months on the list before a spot would open up.
Meridian Street UMC Children's Day In: This nursery school program is different from a typical daycare and would be a good option for parents who work part-time, two to four days per week, or who work from home. The hours are shorter, 9:00 am to 2:30 pm; class size is small (8-12 little ones per room), and student-to-teacher ratio is low. Meridian Street UMC's nursery school programs start at 9 months and extend to 5-year-old pre-kindergartners and operate during the school year only (August through Memorial Day). The church is located in the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood in Midtown.
Irvington UMC Preschool: Similar to Meridian Street UMC's nursery school, this popular preschool in Irvington offers two- or three-day per week classes for toddlers through pre-kindergartners, starting at age 20 months, during the school year. The regular classes are either 8:30-12:15 or 9:00-11:30, with an extended day option (until 3 pm) for three-year-olds and up.
If you're looking for an au pair or nanny
As far as I know or could discover, there is no centralized resource for hiring nannies in urban Indianapolis (could this be an area for future improvement?). Care.com and SitterCity.com are popular websites to connect parents and those seeking nanny positions. Angie's List and Craigslist also have information available on au pairs, nannies and in-home childcare. One mom in our neighborhood told me that she used a private agency to hire a nanny a couple years ago, and it was a horrible experience as well as being fairly expensive.
I talked with Wendy Brown, a full-time nanny to three young children in the Old Northside/St. Joseph neighborhood, about her experience job-seeking, the interview process, and the life of an urban nanny. Wendy had worked as a nanny a few summers during college, graduated in the spring of 2016 with an art degree, and was looking for jobs. Unable to find a position teaching art prior to the beginning of the school year, she decided to apply for a full-time nanny position; she already had a profile on Care.com from the past few summers. She had no idea how competitive it was going to be: there were 49 applicants for her job, and the family interviewed about 15 or 20 of them, in about one week, before hiring Wendy. She works 12-hour days, five days per week; feeding the children meals, driving the oldest to and from school, playing with the toddler and preschooler. She told me, "It's an awesome gig, they're great kids! It leaves me weekends free to do some wedding photography. There are so many fun things to do downtown; we go to parks and the zoo and Children's Museum and the farmers' market." Wendy said she wishes there were neighborhood playgroups for nannies and their young charges, similar to moms' groups: "I've met about five or six other nannies at the park here (Old Northside--Shawn Grove) and at the Herron-Morton Park. It's good for the girls to have other kids to play with sometimes during the day."
Indy, we can do better!
To summarize, it seems there is a great (and ever-increasing) demand for high-quality and affordable childcare in urban Indianapolis. The demand far outpaces the supply right now, and to complicate the issue, there's not enough clear information about where parents can start the whole process of searching, comparing, and evaluating options. Indy, we can do better! I hope to see Indy grow into an even more welcoming city for millennial families in the future. That requires improving the quality, availability and communication/support offered to parents looking for childcare. There should also be sensitivity on the part of everyone involved--regardless of our own personal choices or decisions in this area--that this is an important need and can often be a source of profound emotional, mental and financial stress for young families. Childcare matters. Children are our future, and they are each endowed with natural creativity, unique personality and curiosity. They deserve to be known and loved, encouraged and nurtured, with joy and commitment by parents, nannies or other caregivers in their early years.