I have never known a single parent that could afford to be a stay-at-home parent. There simply is no choice. Single parents must work. Suffice to say, this act alone creates another bill – child care. It is very hard to find child care that is economical, reliable, and trustworthy. It is very important that you screen your day care options to be sure that you are not only getting what you pay for, but are getting a safe environment for your child.
There are the obvious elements of whether a day care center is a good fit for you: Are their fees reasonable and do they fit your budget? Do their hours accommodate your schedule?
For the remainder of questions you should ask, you will have to do your research. The first thing you should do is find out the licensing requirements for your state. Once you have educated yourself in this matter, your first questions should be whether the center is licensed by the state and whether you can see their license. That is right – ask them to produce it. Check both the issuing agency and the date of the license. You should already know the renewal schedule for licensing in your state, so you should be able to tell if their license is up-to-date.
Next, ask about the child-to-staff ratio. The smaller the number of children cares for by each staff member, the better. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a ratio of one staff member to every 3-5 small children and one staff member to every 5-7 older children. In no situation should a staff member be responsible for more than two infants. Also be sure to ask if there are “back-up” staff available to be called in when other staff members call out sick.
Safety is a big concern – both inside and outside the building. Is the building locked at all times? This is essential in keeping children safe from intruders; however, it is also important in keeping children from slipping out of doors when their caregiver(s) are distracted. Are outlet covers, cabinet latches and other child safety devices in use? Even with a low staff to child ratio, a caregiver cannot keep their eyes on every child all the time. Preventive measures are very important in keeping children safe. Are tables and chair child-sized and kept away from counters and other furniture/fixtures? Children have a way of getting to what they want – and one such way is climbing. Limiting the risk of such activities is very important in a day care setting. Are the facilities clean? We all know that it is impossible to keep any are dedicated to child care immaculate at all times; however, disinfectant wipes should be in evidence, hand sanitizer should be available, and any major cleaning problem should be in the process of being addressed. There should be no question about the cleanliness of bathrooms, food prep, and food service areas. Ask to see them.
Check the building for smoke alarms. Ask how often they are tested and the batteries changed. They should be changed every six months, whether there is still battery life or not. Are the toys disinfected on a daily basis? Ask for a tour of the outdoors playground. Inspect the toys. Are jungle gyms in good condition? Are climbing toys sturdy? Check it out and if you find something that is not in good repair, report it – and see what they do about your claim.
Are thorough background checks run on employees? Do they check only in-state agencies, or do they check federal agencies or agencies from states disclosed as previous residencies in job applications? What type of training is required of staff members? Is it a one-time training program or do they have to attend annual refresher courses? Is there someone on the premises at all times who holds a current certification in infant/child CPR and first aid?
The day care center should be able to provide you with a copy of their policies in writing. It is very important for both the day care center and the parent(s) to have this information in writing so that there is no misunderstanding between the two. This is true about policies for sick children, medications that must be taken while at day care, hours and late policies, payments, and discipline. None of these situations should be left to chance.
There should be a daily routine. Your child should not be left in a free-play situation all day. Some free play is good – it allows a child to develop creativity and use their imagination. However, there should be regularly scheduled activities, snacks and meals, and quiet/nap times scheduled in each day. It should be very easy for you to know what your child is doing at any time by referring to a schedule that indicates that states, for example, on Monday at 2:00 pm my child will be at story time.
Last, but certainly not least in important, are references. Do NOT rely upon references supplied solely by the day care center. Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if there have been complaints. Call the Department of Social Services to inquire about any possible complaints. Ask friends from church, work, or other social groups to which you belong if they or anyone they know has used this particular day care center. Be willing to give out a phone number or address at which you can be reached so they can contact you. One or two references from the day care center are acceptable, but you should have an equal amount that were not supplied to you by the center or its staff.
When you leave your child at a day care center, you are entrusting them with your most valuable “possession”. Your child has a value that cannot be estimated nor replaced. Be sure that you are protecting them as effectively as you would your financial assets – or even better!