CHOOSING A HEALTHY, SAFE PLACE FOR YOUR CHILD to thrive while you are
at work is a daunting decision. Daycare horror stories making national news may
suddenly keep you awake at night. But take a deep breath. Safe, healthy options for
childcare are out there. It’s important to gather information, do the legwork, and,
ultimately, trust your gut.
Get the Facts: Narrow the Possibilities
There are regulated daycare centers, regulated home daycares, unregulated home
daycares, and preschools. Begin your search early. Ann Douglas, author of Choosing
Childcare for Dummies, suggests embarking upon your quest between eight weeks
and a year before you’re back-to-work date.
Contact your local childcare referral agency by checking Child Care Aware, a national
consumer education parent hotline (1-800-424-2246) and web delivery system
(www.childcareaware.org). The National Child Care Information Center (1-800-616-
2242 or www.nccic.org) is also a good start.
Ask the referral agency about licensing requirements in your area and how to
collect information about complaints or licensing violations. Ask about fi nancial assistance
programs for which you may qualify.
Home DayCare or Center?
Home daycare may be the best fi t for your child’s “home away from home.”
These providers tend to have more fl exible hours (especially helpful if you work an
atypical work schedule). They may have less rigid schedules and policies to set you
more at ease. If it is important to you that your caregiver be open to making lots of individual
accommodations (irregular naptimes, for example), a home provider might
suit you and your child best. Some home providers are regulated, but many are not,
so it’s a personal choice dependent on whether you’re comfortable.
Licensed daycare centers offer many advantages. Centers may hire certifi ed early
childhood educators with training in child development and have more clearly outlined
policies so everyone knows what to expect. Also, having more than one caregiver
on the premises provides peace of mind (especially if you’re concerned about
TV watching or unfamiliar adults in a home setting). Centers offer reliability so you
won’t have to scramble for care if one caregiver is ill or on vacation. The spaces
in a center are typically kid friendly and designed with safety in mind. Because of
government regulation, child to caregiver ratios, safety requirements, and criminal
record checks are standard.
Do the Homework: Visit and Assess Quality
• SUPERVISION. Are children supervised
at all times, even when they are
sleeping? Is discipline positive, clear,
consistent, and fair?
Hands should be scrubbed with soap
and water for at least 10 seconds
and then rinsed and dried. The faucet
should be turned off with a paper
• DIRECTOR QUALIFICATION. The
director should hold a B.A. degree and
have worked in childcare for at least
• TEACHER QUALIFICATIONS.
The lead teacher should hold a B.A.
degree in a child-related fi eld and have
worked in childcare for at least a year.
• CHILD:STAFF RATIO. One family
home caregiver should care for only
two babies. The fewer children each
caregiver cares for, the better.
• IMMUNIZATIONS. Does the provider
have records proving that other
children are up to date?
• TOXIC SUBSTANCES. Are cleaning
supplies and pest killers kept far from
• EMERGENCY PLAN. Are first aid
kits and emergency plans in place?
• FIRE DRILLS. Are these practiced
• CHILD ABUSE. Can caregivers be
seen by others at all times so a child
is never alone with one caregiver?
Have all caregivers gone through a
background check? Have all caregivers
been trained to prevent, recognize, and
report child abuse?
• MEDICATION. Is it kept out of
reach and labeled properly?
• STAFF TRAINING. Have all caregivers
been trained in fi rst aid and CPR?
• PLAYGROUND. Is it
developmentally appropriate, clean,
and inspected regularly for safety?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends you consider the following
13 guidelines as you evaluate the quality of a provider:
The National Association for the
Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
suggests the following 10 signs are indicative
of a good preschool:
Children spend most of their time playing
and working with materials or with
Children have access to various activities
throughout the day.
Teachers work with individual children,
small groups, and the whole group at
different times during the day.
The classroom is decorated with
children’s original artwork and projects.
Children learn numbers and the alphabet
in the context of their everyday
Children work on projects and have long
periods of time to play and explore.
Worksheets are used rarely, if at all.
Children have an opportunity to play
outside in a safe play area every day.
Teachers read books to children individually
or in small groups.
Curricula are adapted for those who
are ahead as well as those who need
Trust Your Judgment: Notice your Gut
One of the most helpful factors to
consider when choosing a provider is
the interaction between caregiver and
children. Is there good communication? What is
the caregiver’s interpersonal style?
Notice how the interaction makes you feel.
Is it a place you would look forward to
coming each day?
In order to find the best fit for
your child, consider how the provider’s
philosophy of child rearing, discipline,
education, and nurturing meshes with
your own. As Ann Douglas says in her
book, “You can’t count on anyone else
to guarantee your child’s health, safety,
and well-being in a particular child care
setting. Like it or not, the buck stops
with you.” Do you agree with how a
provider believes your child should be
guided and cared for each day?
You should feel a sense of trust in
the caregiver/program and that your
child will learn and grow happily within
a particular environment.
Michele Ranard is a professional counselor,
tutor, and freelancer. She is a former preschool teacher.
Child Care Aware. www.childcareaware.org
Douglas, Ann. Choosing Childcare for Dummies.
For Dummies, 2003.
American Academy of Pediatrics. www.aap.org
National Association for the Education of
Young Children. www.naeyc.org