Too often, there are news reports about terrifying accidents at daycare centers. Stories like these fill parents with an understandable fear and apprehension about leaving their children in someone else's care. While it's not possible to protect a child from every eventuality, there are several things to consider when selecting a daycare center.
Caregiver to Child Ratio
Know the worker to child ratio at the facility. State laws govern how many children each caregiver may supervise. Be sure the center is licensed by the state and following state regulations.
Before selecting a daycare service, investigate its security practices. Ask about pick-up and drop-off procedures, and how individuals authorized to collect a child are identified. Doors should be secured and visible to administrators so that no unexpected individuals can enter or exit undetected. Exits should be inoperable to children without adult assistance.
Understand the infection control policies of a daycare center. Sharing of toys and supplies increases a child's risk for contracting illness, and with the increasing cases of swine flu and other viruses, it’s important to protect yourself. Ask the following:
- How often and with what compounds are shared items cleaned and disinfected?
- What are the policies regarding sick child attendance?
- How are children who become ill at daycare separated from other children?
- What are the rules governing medication administration, storage, and handling?
Also make sure bathrooms and eating areas are clean, and that all staff - especially those handling diapers - practice proper hand-washing technique. All children should have the appropriate vaccines as mandated by public health and state guidelines. There are some great informational posters/programs about germs available from the CDC; you can use them to teach your child about their own safety.
Find out what materials comprise play and rest equipment. Mats for napping and play should be phthalate compliant (or free!), a common plastic component linked to endocrine and respiratory disorders. Be certain pest control compounds are child-safe and treatments are applied during non-operative hours. Ask about carbon monoxide and whether levels are monitored. In older buildings, be certain paint is not lead-based.
Investigate the playground equipment to see that it is not in disrepair. Check for sharp edges, excessive rust, or splintering wood. Play areas should have fencing or other defined boundaries. Toys and play items should be lead compliant or free, and any donated items should be tested for lead before being used in the center. Safety mats should be used under all play equipment.
Food-borne illness and ingestion of non-food substances are all too common - and completely preventable - daycare center occurrences. Make sure brightly colored chemicals are not kept near food or drink, as they may be mistaken for juice or punch. Ask how food is stored, handled, and distributed. Also inquire about policies for children with food allergies.
Child proofing is just as - if not more important - when there are multiple children present. All unused electrical outlets should be covered. Cabinets at lower levels should be secured. If accessible, they should not house chemicals, toxic materials, or other risks, such as sharp instruments, matches, or rope.
Though it may be uncomfortable having someone else care for your child during the day, it is often unavoidable. Before selecting a daycare center, it is important to determine its safety. By asking questions and inspecting the facility, a parent can have peace of mind while apart from their little one.