There are many factors to consider when looking for a day care for your child. But safety should always be at the top of your list. There are safety standards for things like licensing, child proofing, staff-to-child ratios, indoor and outdoor spaces, staff behavior, behavior policies, etc. And you should investigate and approve of all of them.
Dr. Julia Anixt, a pediatrician at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, Dr. Danette Glassy, a pediatrician and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Section on Early Education and Child Care, and Carolyn Stolov, family life expert at Care.com, provide insight on what to look for to make sure a day care is safe.
While checking off the items on this list doesn’t guarantee a center is safe, it can help point you in the right direction. For more safety tips, check out the Care.com Safety Center.
1. Licensing Standards Are Met
The day care should be licensed, with the paperwork prominently displayed.
“Without safeguards such as child care licensing requirements and written policies in place, there are no standard[ized] expectations for parents or staff about the child care environment,” says Dr. Anixt. “Without basic safety measures in place, children are at risk of getting hurt. Having formal procedures in place and documentation that a center meets at least minimum licensing requirements is the first step to being able to measure quality.”
Dr. Glassy suggests looking at accreditation. “Completing the requirements of the National Association of Education of Young Children or National Association of Family Child Care usually ensures a higher level of practice,” Glassy says.
“After locating a center or family child care program you like, call the local licensing agency in your area,” suggests Stolov. (Search online for “day care licensing” and your city or state.) “Ask the licensor if the day care has had any violations, what those violations are, if the center has ever been closed due to those violations and if there has been any abuse at the center. Verify that the center is licensed and when it’s up for re-inspection.”
2. A Child Care Health Consultant Is Present or On-Call
“Does the child care center have an ongoing relationship with a child care health consultant — this is a licensed medical professional with experience in mentoring child care providers to improve health and safety practices,” asks Dr. Glassy. “Centers who employ an experienced child care health consultant perform better on measures of health and safety.”
3. Spaces Are Childproofed
Remember the hours and hours you spent going through your home with a fine-tooth comb and childproofing it? Your day care should do the same — and have policies in place for checking everything daily. Dr. Anixt recommends looking for these childproof must-haves:
- Window blind pull strings are looped up out of reach and fastened with anchors
- Cribs are placed out of reach of windows and window blinds
- Outlet covers are in firmly place
- Stairs are blocked off by stair gates
- Changing tables and high chairs have straps which are used to secure the child
- Toys are clean and in good condition
- No small objects around that children could choke on
- Potentially toxic substances (like medications and cleaning supplies) are secured out of reach of children
4. Staff is Trained in First Aid and CPR
For the safety of the children, and because accidents can and do happen, at least one member of the staff should be trained in pediatric CPR and first aid — and preferably all staff members are. Ask to see certificates of training completion if they’re not already displayed, and make sure they’re up-to-date (within the past two years).
5. Caregiver-to-Child Ratios are Acceptable
“There should be adequate caregiver-to-child ratios in the room to allow for an appropriate level of supervision,” Dr. Anixt says. Each state has its own ratios, but in general experts recommend:
- one adult caregiver for every 4 infants (birth to 18 months)
- one adult caregiver for every 4 young toddlers (18 months to 2 years)
- one adult caregiver for every 6 older toddlers (2 to 3 years)
- one adult caregiver for every 9 preschool aged kids (older than 3 years of age)
6. Low Staff Turnover
High staff-retention rates allow children to develop lasting relationships with caregivers. This also demonstrates the teachers are happy at the center, and therefore more likely to treat children with warmth and positivity.
7. Policies Are in Writing
You should be aware of the day care’s important standard procedures involving things like medication, discipline, cleaning, infection control, sick policies and proper sanitation guidelines. They should all be written down and provided to every family so that parents and staff know what is allowed and what to expect. If you have any questions, ask!
8. Healthy and Safe Behaviors Are Practiced
You should get an overall feeling that the day care is a healthy and safe place. You should notice staff and children washing hands frequently, surfaces being cleaned regularly and babies being put to sleep on their backs. These practices can prevent germs from spreading and keep the children and staff safe and healthy.
“Children are exposed to more infections in group care,” says Dr. Glassy. “If tested infection control practices are not followed, more children get more illnesses.”
9. Discipline Focuses on Positives
Dr. Anixt says the “staff should use positive techniques to guide behavior in a developmentally appropriate manner and should never use harsh words or physical discipline.” Young children should be redirected, rather than scolded.
10. There’s an Open-door Policy
Be wary of a center that does not encourage parents to observe — before or after enrolling — and ask questions. “During the observation, follow a few of the teachers/caregivers and see if they wash their hands [and] how they handle the emotional needs of the children,” says Dr. Glassy.
“Parents should feel comfortable asking any questions they have of the program director or staff to be sure that the program is a good fit for their child and family,” adds Dr. Anixt. “Ask the director of the program about their philosophy on discipline and be sure that the staff uses positive discipline techniques with the children. And finally, parents should take the time to observe and visit classrooms long enough to get a sense of how staff interact with the children and with each other. Parents should go with their ‘gut instincts’ — if they don’t feel comfortable with a child care setting for any reason, then it is not the right place for their child.”
MOMS ALSO READ: 7 Questions to Ask When Touring a Day Care Center
When searching for the best day care for your child, take the time to find one that works for you and your precious child. Use this list of safety signs to help make an educated and informed decision.
Marcia Hudgel is a writer, yoga teacher, wife, mother to her animals and aunt to ten nieces and nephews. She lives in Cleveland, Ohio and her work can be found here.