Choosing childcare for your baby or toddler is a very hard decision for a parent. And you cannot be choosy in this matter. Daycare centers can run the gamut from outstanding to much worse.
You should start making rounds about six months before you need childcare, as good centers fill up fast. It is important that you watch for the warning signs which are mentioned below. If you see any at a place which you are considering, do not even think of putting your child there.
You should not hesitate to judge a center based on what you have heard from other parents. You should ask for specifics to make sure that the negative comments apply to your situation and are not something unique to a particular family and the center. You can take a survey of neighbors and fellow parents at the park. You should ask them whether the center is popular, do they know if any child has been lost or injured at the center? If you are even the slightest bit reluctant to leave your child at a center, then you should pass. If other parents are not thrilled with the center, then you should keep looking.
Rules and regulations are important. Centers without clearly established guidelines for everything from operating hours to handling emergencies may have other organizational problems too. You should ask for a written copy of the center's policies. If they cannot supply one, then you should be cautious. In-home daycare may be less formal and more flexible, but a good in-home daycare should still have a set schedule, safety policies, and a safe physical environment.
Similarly centers with a lax sick-child policy should be crossed off from your list. If children and staff who come down with fever or flu don't have to stay home for at least 24 hours, then your child will more likely catch every little thing that comes along.
The center should also require children and staff to have current immunizations and regular checkups. This policy is a good indication of how seriously the center will take your child's well being and health. If you run into a closed door policy, then you should keep looking. A center that balks at having parents drop by unannounced will have something to hide.
If a daycare center does not have clear rules and organization, then it could not be the right place for you, so you should keep looking.
A questionable curriculum
You need to skip centers that have no daily program or offer one that is unchallenging and static. Children need variety, change and a chance to grow. The best center should offer a wide range of both group and individual activities.
If babies spend most of their time in swings, infant seats, or other baby holders, and if the center does not offer organized activities that change regularly, or if television and other electronic media are a big part of the daycare's agenda, then you should cross the facility off your list.
You also have to check if it is well stocked with supplies. You need to see if there are paintings and other projects on the walls.
You should feel free to ask the staff about the daily routine and also about special activities that they have. You should ask them if the staff takes children on outings, and if they do, do they do it in a way which you consider safe. Do they celebrate holidays, and if so which ones? These answers can give you an idea of how attentive the staff is to preparation and planning.
You should not consider centers that have a poor selection of age appropriate toys. Having enough of the right play things will not only encourage your child's development by stimulating creative, imaginative play, but it will also help to prevent kids from getting in too many tussles over who gets to play with what and when. You should check if the toys have small parts, as it can choke a baby or toddler.
Your child needs a wide range of safe, age-appropriate toys and activities to encourage development. If the center does not offer them, then you should cross the center of your list.
If the employees of the center seem under qualified, then you should keep looking. Ideally the staff should have two years of college with a background in early childhood development. Staff that is not educated, responsible, and prepared will not provide the best care for your child.
The caregivers have to be trained in CPR, and they should share your basic philosophies on issues such as feeding, sleep and discipline.
You should watch how the staff interacts with children. Two sure signs of a less than ideal situation are caregivers who speak to children only in baby talk, or who yell or speak harshly to them. If you ever see a staff member raise hand on a child, then you should leave immediately and report the incident to the Child Protective Services.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) evaluates daycare programs and awards them accreditation if they meet certain standards. So you should check for the symbol of NAEYC approval, or you can ask the director of the daycare center if the center has applied for this accreditation. Among the qualification necessary to earn NAEYC accreditation is implementing a curriculum that fosters all areas of child's development that is emotional, cognitive, language, physical and social. NAEYC-accredited centers should also provide ongoing assessments of each child, employ qualified staff, promote good nutrition and health.
NAEYC also sets staffing guidelines for its centers. These are:
For babies, the ratio should be one caregiver for every three children if a group has six infants or one for every four if there are eight infants in the group.
For toddlers between 12 to 28 months, the ratio is one to three for six children, and one to four for eight or more children. For children of the age of 21 to 36 months, these ratios expand to one to five for ten children, and one to six for a group of 12.
For preschoolers 30 to 48 months, the ratio should be one to six for a group of 12 children, one to seven for a group of 14, one to eight for a group of 16, and one to nine for a group of 18.
For 4 and 5 year old kids, the ratio should be one to eight for a group of 16 children, one to nine for a group of 18 children and one to ten for a group of 20 children.
You need to go with your instincts. When you tour the facility, you should watch carefully to see if babies are tended to quickly when they cry or if the staff lets them wail.
You should look at the older children too. You should see if they are listened to when they ask questions, and do they receive any help when they need to go to the bathroom. Whether your child is going to receive the attention that he needs should be one of your main considerations.
An undercompensated staff
Poor staff benefits lead to a high turnover. Ideally your child will be cared for by the same familiar faces each day. Even the best centers sometimes find it difficult to hire and keep dedicated employees. Most childcare workers are also paid very less, which is just above the minimum wage and the demands of keeping up with many babies or toddlers each day can be tiring. But centers that do not offer vacation and health insurance will not have loyal staff to care for your child for a long time.
If the training of the staff does not seem adequate, and the employees seem overworked, or they do not stick around for a very long time, then you should not think of that center.
Dirty, unsafe facilities
If the center seems rundown and shabby, then you should keep looking. Here is what you should look for:
The food preparation areas should be far from the toilets and diaper changing stations
The floor, walls and the kitchen area should be clean.
All the equipments should be well maintained.
Heat, light and ventilation should be adequate.
If you do not see the staff washing their hands after every diaper change and sanitizing the changing area, or if the center looks poorly kept, then you should cross the center off your list. You can pick up a few toys to check how sticky they are. You should also check if the play area is well organized.
You should look for plenty of space too. According to NAEYC, centers should have at least 26 square feet of indoor space per child and 75 square feet per child outside.
You should skip centers that have safety problems:
Toys and play equipment should be in good repair.
If there are any upstairs windows, then it should be kept closed or should be covered with window guards.
Medication and hazardous substances should be out of reach.
The bedding should be fresh and firm in order to reduce the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) for babies.
The outdoor play area should be level and secure with impact absorbing surfaces under swings and slides.
Smoke detectors should be present and should be in a working condition.
Radiators and heaters should be covered or protected.
A first aid kit and fire extinguisher should be close at hand, and poison control and ambulance phone numbers should be posted clearly.
Fire drills should be held monthly.
All standard child proofing devices should be in place such as door latches, safety gates, and covered outlets.
You should check the security at the door and outdoor gates. Strangers should not be able to just walk in and off the street.
If the center seems cramped, dingy or dangerous, then you should cross it off your list.
If the license of the center is out of date, then you should cross the center of your list. Many centers post their license prominently. If you do not see one, then you should ask about it. You should also call your local social services department and check whether the facility has a current license.
Having a license simply does not guarantee quality care, but most states require proper credentials, so centers that do not have a license are not fulfilling the most basic criteria.
Daycare centers are also required to meet state licensing regulations for health and safety. Facilities that have not passed the stringent accreditation process required by NAEYC may be questionable.
Having a license is not everything. Remember, if the center does not have a license, it is definitely not for you.