A. I may be a suspicious worrier, but I always try to host the first playdate with a new friend. This gives me a chance to get to know the child a little better, which generally tells me something about her parents. It also provides an opportunity for contact with the parents at dropoff and pick-up times.
When a mom brings her child to my house, I invite her in for a cup of tea, or at least a chat, until the kids get settled in to play. Sometimes we hit it off and yammer away. Sometimes it's not a match made in playdate heaven. Either way, we each come away knowing more about the other than we did before. Most of the time, this leads to feeling more comfortable about entrusting our children to each other (remember, while you're checking out the other parent, she's giving you the same once-over).
Often, I volunteer to drive the child home so I can see where and how the family lives before my kid goes over there. Sure, it's nosy of me, but I'm not checking to see if they live in a nice neighborhood, have a well-decorated living room, or keep their house clean. I'm looking for a safe environment. And I try not to jump to conclusions: I've found that some of the messiest homes belong to the most attentive parents -- maybe that's because they're busy playing with their kids rather than cleaning.
In eight years of arranging playdates, only twice have I decided not to accept any more invitations from a family. (In one case, when I arrived to pick up Madeline, she wasn't there, and the parent in charge didn't seem to know that the girls had gone for a walk.) But the fact is, my kids did survive playdates with irresponsible parents; so will yours. We can be worriers -- I prefer to call us realists -- but we also have to have faith that most people are decent and trustworthy. Going through life suspecting everyone doesn't make you any safer, it just makes you (and your child) more afraid.