Choosing where to place your child and with whom can be one of the most difficult choices for a parent. This section will give you suggestions and tips that will help make it easier for you to choose the right child care solution. There are several factors to take into consideration when looking at different child care programs and comparing different facilities and there will be many questions that you will want to ask. First and foremost, you will want to know if a program is licensed, as most states require. You will want to check out your state's Department of Human Resources, Office of Child Care Licensing by calling them or visiting their website to find out if the facility you are interested in is licensed. If you go online, you will be able to search a database of all licensed child care programs in your state. If you find out that the program is not licensed, find out why? Some programs, such as church programs, are exempt from the licensing requirements in certain states. Also, some states allow programs to be exempt from licensing if they keep a low number of children.
Once you determine the licensure status, you will want to more closely examine the program itself, the facility, and the staff member(s). Here is a checklist for parents to use:
- How many staff members are there and are there enough to adequately supervise the children?
- Are the staff members CPR and First Aid certified? What other qualifications do the staff members have?
- If this is a child care home, are there any other adults or children in the home during the hours of operation?
- Is the area clean and safe with clear exits in case of emergency? Is there a clearly posted emergency exit plan or can the staff member sufficiently demonstrate the exit strategy?
- Are first aid supplies and fire extinguishers readily available?
- What kind of discipline philosophy is followed at the child care facility (verbal warnings, time-out)?
- Are there stairs? Are the stairs gated to prevent accidents and falls?
- Are precautions taken to maximize safety such as covering outlets, putting latches on drawers and cabinets where chemicals or medications are stored?
- Are toys, games, and play areas clean and how often are they cleaned? What chemicals or method of cleaning is used to clean the toys, games, and play areas?
- Are toys appropriate for the age of the child and are the toys separated by age so that younger children do not have access to small objects that can cause a choking hazard?
- Are there any weapons on the premises and where are they stored?
- If this is a child care home, are there any pets? If so, will children have contact with the pets? Are the pets current on rabies and vaccinations?
- Do children have access to clean toilets? Is there an area for handwashing with soap and individual paper towels for drying hands?
- If there is a pool, does the homeowner have a fence around the pool, a self-latching gate? What precautions are taken to ensure that a child cannot gain access to the pool?
- Playground equipment must be anchored and surrounded by a shock absorbing material.
- What types of meals and snacks are served? Are they nutritious? Does the child care center participate in the child care food program?
- What types of activities will your child be participating in? Are they educational and allow for playtime indoors and outdoors during the day? Do they go on any field trips, walks to a park, swimming and what precautions are taken to ensure safety if they do?
- Can the program adequately accommodate special needs and how so?
After these questions have been answered, it is time to observe the program in action. Find out if you can bring your child for a trial day to see how he or she does at this facility. Then, ask to observe your child to see how staff treats your child, how they treat other children, see what activities they do, and most importantly, to see how well your child fits in to the environment. Does the staff seem genuinely happy to be there with the children and are they actively engage in activities with them? How does your child act at the end of the day? See if you can ascertain any feedback from your child if they are old enough. Did your child have a good time? If you decide that his is the place for you and your child, continue with the enrollment process. If not, move on to the next program and start the process over again. Remember, even if you decide to enroll your child, you should periodically drop in to observe the program and your child to make sure it is still the right fit and meeting your child's needs.
Lisa Russolillo is a mother of 4 amazing children (ages 10, 8, 6, and ) and an in-home child care provider. If you would like more information about children, parenting, and child care, please visit http://www.atoz-childcare-directory.com to find many great resources. Child care providers can also list their child care businesses for free.