Childcare: For some parents, just hearing that word can bring on a panic attack. Whether it's the thought of leaving Baby with someone new when maternity leave ends or simply adding up the often-astronomical cost of care, finding the right childcare provider can be extremely daunting. Though the biggest factors when making a decision are usually price, availability, and location, it's also important to know providers' standards, qualifications, and procedures, whether you're looking for everyday, all-day care or just a twice-a-week, Parents' Day Out program. To make the search more manageable and informative, ask childcare providers these 10 important questions:
- What licensing or accreditation do you have? No license means the center doesn't undergo state-mandated inspections. With Parents' Day Out programs, it's a different story. Your child is there less than 10 hours a week, so it's up to you to do the inspecting.
- What is the teacher turnover rate? A high turnover rate is a serious red flag. Teacher happiness is very important. Not only does it indicate that the center is a great place to work, it also suggests the teachers are providing great care. Long-term service means a great working environment with high-quality caregivers.
- How extensive are teacher background checks? You don't want to leave your child with just anybody. Keep in mind, parents' day out programs are typically not required to do background checks unless they are licensed, so it's important to ask.
- What is the teacher-to-child ratio? Again, if the location isn't licensed, it doesn't have to follow state requirements on teacher-to-child ratios. But a ratio that's better than the requirement — meaning fewer children per teacher — is a good thing. It means the teachers aren't overworked, the rooms aren't overrun, and the facility isn't just trying to keep the rooms maxed out to capacity.
- How much information about a child do you need? How is it filed? Children are increasingly becoming the targets of identity theft, so be cautious. Your child's exact birth date, middle name and social security number should not be needed. It's important that your child's private information is accessible only to the director.
- What are the cleaning and sanitizing practices? How often are carpets and toys cleaned? Stomach viruses can live in carpets for up to 14 days. Make sure the facility places a high priority on cleanliness.
- Are teachers CPR/first-aid certified? This is a must if the place is licensed, but you should verify to be safe.
- What are the safety practices or security measures? You'll want to know whether the doors are locked, what measures are taken when children go outside for play time, and what identification is required when your child is picked up by someone other than you. Also check that the facility is well ventilated and has a defined and posted emergency procedure for fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, or other emergencies that may occur in your area.
- How much emphasis is placed on education vs. unstructured play time? Will your child spend the entire day in the corner playing with toys, or will he be engaged with learning activities and story times? Learning activities should be offered before preschool.
- What is the disciplinary policy, and at what age does discipline start? "Time-out" is what you should expect to hear, and it should start no earlier than 2 years old. The number of minutes in time-out should equal the child's age.
Even if you are certain of which childcare provider you want to use, a good rule of thumb is to check out at least three places before you select one. Bottom line: Your child will most likely spend three or more years at the facility, so do the research now to avoid surprises and the need to switch to a new provider later.