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How To Find Good Day Care

You plan to enroll your child in a day-care center and want to make sure it's a quality program. Of course, you check that staffers wash their hands after changing diapers and before feeding the children, and that at least one caregiver has had first-aid and CPR training. But there are other, less obvious signs to look for. Some key questions to ask:

What's the caregiver-child ratio? The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), which has a voluntary accreditation program for day-care centers, recommends that programs have one caregiver for every three or four infants, and one caregiver for every four to six toddlers.

What's your employee-turnover rate? Day-care centers tend to be low paying, with high turnover. In fact, research shows that more than one-third of child-care providers will quit their jobs this year.

A good center has at least a few workers who have been there for years, experts say. "If you find out that none of the employees has lasted longer than a year, that's a bad sign," says Mon Cochran, Ph.D., a professor of early-child development at Cornell University. "For their emotional development, it's important that toddlers and infants have stability and continuity in care."

Does the center have adequate space? It's not enough that it has age-appropriate toys, though you should make sure that there are lots of them, since infants and toddlers aren't good at sharing. You also want to see that the children have plenty of room, both indoors and out. "Kids have enormous amounts of energy and need room to run around," says Marian Edelman Borden, author of the recently released Smart Start: The Parent's Complete Guide to Preschool Education. The NAEYC recommends that day-care centers have at least 35 square feet of indoor playroom space per child, and 75 square feet per child of outdoor play space, with at least some of that area cushioned. And make sure there are separate rooms. "If the kids are combined in one large room, it will be chaotic," says Cochran. "They need to have their own space."