Parenting, Toddler & Preschool

The Big Hand-Off: How To Find The Right Daycare


Written by Leslie Penkunas



It’s still not all rosy, but things are looking up for NOLA’s working families five years after Katrina.


When she was five months pregnant, nola baby & family publisher Ann Herren enthusiastically put her name on the waiting lists at two Uptown daycare centers. She’s still waiting for a call to tell her there’s an opening for infant care. Meanwhile, her daughter Livvy will turn three in September.


Daycare’s been a hot commodity in New Orleans since Katrina wiped out fully two-thirds of the licensed centers in the metropolitan area. Thankfully, over the course of the past two years, the situation has improved. More facilities have reopened (though they have yet to reach pre-storm levels). Also encouraging: there’s a heightened attention to the quality of care provided at both new and established daycares.


Coming Back


In the aftermath of Katrina and Rita, the daycare landscape in NOLA was decimated. None of the 26 centers in St. Bernard Parish survived the storms, and fully two years later, only two daycare facilities in the parish had reopened. Orleans Parish didn’t fare much better: Katrina knocked out 237 of the 275 licensed daycare facilities there.


Kids Count, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, is a national and state-by-state effort to track the status of children in the U.S. It is managed in Louisiana through Agenda for Children, a non-profit child advocacy agency. Teresa Falgoust, Kids Count coordinator at Agenda for Children, reports that today there are 15 licensed child care centers in St. Bernard and 152 in Orleans Parishes. In Jefferson Parish, which lost less than a third of its facilities, 86 percent of its pre-K daycare centers are up and running again.


According to Gail Kelso, interim executive director of the Louisiana Department of Social Services’ Child Care and Early Childhood Education division, family-based daycare came back faster than daycare centers. “Childcare centers are a business,” she says. “Look at it as if they’re grocery stores. They’re not going to set up shop until there are shoppers.” Katrina sent many of those “shoppers” away.


Gail says that Louisiana Social Services has used emergency block grant money to help rebuild or build new daycare programs throughout the area—including some on the NorthShore. Additionally, the Greater New Orleans Rebuild Child Care Collaborative (GNORCCC), a group of partnering non-profits, offers support for the creation, expansion and maintenance of quality childcare through its financial grants, supervision and expertise.


The number of daycare centers seemed to hit a plateau last summer, according to the most recent data from Kids Count. So don’t expect many more to open anytime soon. Gail says her department’s “rebuild childcare centers” group is pausing to take stock of the situation and plan its next efforts. “There’s a metamorphosis,” she says. “What will we be next? We have some systematic questions about childcare.”


Attention to Quality


Part of that metamorphosis is an increased focus on higher quality. Actually, efforts began just prior to the devastating storm, when a group from DSS flew to Tennessee to talk about quality ratings. A year later, they were developing a statewide quality control system, similar in design to the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s (NAEYC, pronounced Naycie) accreditation, but tailored specifically for Louisiana.


In 2007, the state launched Quality Start (, a voluntary ratings program which builds upon licensing regulations. Ratings range from one to five stars; there are no five-star rankings yet, and just seven facilities in New Orleans have earned four stars.


“To get one star, you can’t have any deficiencies,” says Gail. “And with 200, 300 requirements for licensing, there’s a lot of opportunity to get a deficiency in some area.” Gail says that of the 1800 licensed daycare providers statewide, more than 700 have attainted a quality star rating. “And we have 175 applications in process right now,” she adds.


One of the first facilities to attain a four-star rating was Beary Cherry Tree in Metairie (the only daycare in Jefferson Parish with four stars). Its owner, Paula Polito, had already garnered accreditation from NAEYC. Then she heard about Quality Start.


“We’re accredited. We’re all about quality,” she says. “Once I learned about [the program], I wanted to pursue it. It’s a daunting process. An assessor is in the classroom watching everything. How many manipulatives are we using in the classroom? How many multicultural books do we have? What’s the hand-washing policy? What are the credentials of the staff?”


Paula is a huge proponent of Quality Start. “Parents deserve quality childcare,” she says, “and this program ensures that childcare centers provide it. It’s an easy way for parents to understand what quality childcare looks like.” Both she and Gail advise parents considering daycare to check out the its website. “They need to start with that,” says Paula. “What it means to be three or four stars. Make yourself aware of what’s out there. Know what’s important.”


While Quality Start is a voluntary program designed to help improve the quality of daycare facilities, the state is also looking at a blueprint for required quality improvements. “We’re revamping how we conduct visits,” Gail says. “We’re revising the standards. We’re walking through each and every regulation, and working with a national consultant, to make sure it all works well for Louisiana.” She says that they hope to have a draft of revised licensing requirements completed this summer.


Where to Look


So, you’re newly pregnant, or in the adoption process. And you’ll need daycare. What should you do? Start looking immediately.


“Our waiting list is 150 deep,” says Paula, who obviously doesn’t need more clients, but wants to stress that parents should start looking as soon as possible. Gail recommends that they begin their search by visiting the Child Care Aware website ( “It gives some great perspective on what to look for in a daycare,” she says. The site also provides a link to Agenda for Children, which will complete a referral for you.


“You tell them what your requirements are. Like, ‘This is how much I can pay, and I need it to be 10 min from where I work, or on this bus line, or with these hours.’ They’ll provide you with a list of three, four, five places that meet your requirements,” Gail says. “There really are so many options for childcare in New Orleans. Registered. Licensed. Unlicensed—like a relative. Most parents are primarily looking for a place where their baby will be safe.”


After narrowing down your picks of recommended daycare facilities—either center or home-based—call to see their availabilities, and plan to visit them. “Parents walk in. They see a pleasant staff,” says Paula. “They see happy children. There are no TVs. The curriculum is in place. Once parents know what is good, where their children will be safe, they can then go with their gut.”


Not surprising, parents who already have older children enrolled in a daycare program get bumped to the head of the line to have their subsequent babies accepted. One local school has decided to add year-round, all-day infant care, with first priority given to the younger siblings of its enrolled students.


“We have a lot of families with younger children who wanted some place they were familiar with,” says Elaine Binder, Marketing Director, St. Louis King of France School in Metairie. Currently, the school offers preK-two through preK-four as well as kindergarten through seventh grade. In August, it will open its new “Crusaders Cribs” nursery program for infants six weeks to two years old. They’ll have as many as 22 spots for infants; as of our press date, 10 spots had been filled, so there might still be room by the time you’re reading this.


“The staff is thrilled [about this new program],” says Elaine. “Talk about knowing a child through their school years—we’ll have some from birth on up We love that.”


Most of us won’t be so lucky to have one facility take care of our child from birth through seventh grade. But with the state’s increased attention to quality, we can take comfort that there are many great daycare providers out there committed to keeping our children safe, well-cared for, and happy.


Resources to help your search.


Agenda for Children,, 1720 Saint Charles Ave., 504.586.8509. It offers a free childcare resource and referral service for metropolitan New Orleans. Submit your requirements for childcare through its website or by phone, and get a list of those facilities matching your needs.


Child Care Aware, (, a program of the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies, provides information and tools to help guide you through the decision-making process.


LA Department of Social Service, Childcare and Early Childhood Education Division. (, offers a Child Care Assistance Program to low-income families to help pay for childcare while the parent(s) are working or attending school. The website also has a database of all licensed daycare providers in the state, by parish.


National Association for the Education of Young Children (, a national accreditation program, which includes a list a accredited programs in NOLA.


Quality Start (, Louisiana’s new voluntary childcare ratings system, allows searches for all programs in the state which have earned at least a one-star rating.


To be confident that a daycare facility will be a good fit, make sure to visit it in person, and ask lots of questions. Consider:


1. Proximity to work or home, or along the way of your commute.


2. Operating hours. Some limit the number of hours infants can be cared for each day. Some charge $5 a minute or more for late pickup.


3. Ratio. How many babies are there for each caregiver?


4. Group dynamics. Imagine beyond the infant years. Do you like how the toddlers and preschoolers interact and are cared for? Is there structured play and learning? And do they look like they’re having fun?


5. Sick child policy. There should be standards in place determining when a sick child can return to daycare.


6. Vacation/holiday schedule. This is especially important if you’re leaning toward a home-based childcare setting, when you’ll most likely have to seek alternate care whenever the daycare mom takes a vacation or is ill.


7. Travel/Field Trips. Will your daycare facility take your child on a field trip? If so, who drives? If you use a home-based provider, will she runs errands with the children? Are you comfortable with that scenario?


8. References. Get them, and call them, too. Ask what they really like about the daycare facility or provider, and what they wish (if anything) were different.

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