Recognizing Safety and Quality in a Daycare

Most professional fields have a rigid system of regulations and must be dutifully followed. For the most part, childcare has set regulations for registered and licensed daycare homes as well as daycare centers. However, in between the inspections twice a year there is a lot of room for leeway. I’ve visited many daycare centers and a few homes and I’ve found that they don’t meet my standards for cleanliness, especially the daycare centers.

Hazardous substances, sharp knives, and medications need to be locked away. Toys need to be sanitized frequently. The daycare area needs to be cleaned frequently. High chairs and baby feeding utensils need to be cleaned daily. Windows need to be clean and smudge-free to leave a good impression. The yard and landscaping need to be kept tidy and visually appealing to keep up a good image. A fenced outdoor play area with secure adult-height locks ensures that children don’t escape. Not having standing water (even 1 inch) ensures young children won’t drown. In my opinion, a daycare home should not be allowed to have a swimming pool and I personally wouldn’t put my child in a daycare home that had one.

Some misguided signs of quality:

Being Licensed- I’m willing to bet that a licensing employee will not inspect a daycare with the same watchful eye as a worried parent would. Keep that in mind the next time you hear a daycare provider claim being licensed as one of the benefits of their program. In Orange County, Florida, a daycare home provider who cares for more than 6 young children or 10 before & after school children must be licensed. The granting of a license simply shows the provider has met minimum standards for health, safety, and training. Don’t get a false sense of security- even licensed daycares can have danger zones like child gates that aren’t securely attached, burn hazards, fall hazards, water hazards, animal hazards, equipment hazards, and even home hazards like improper electrical wiring or a ceiling fan not installed properly.

Superfoods aren’t served- If your daycare serves meals, don’t count on it being a balanced meal made with the freshest, highest quality ingredients. Most daycares (centers more than homes) buy low-quality foods in bulk to save money and then overcook meals that have little to no nutrition and generally don’t have spices/seasonings in them that add antioxidants to the child’s diet. Most daycares follow state regulations that map when meals should be served, but most nutritional requirements are lax and non-specific. What exactly does a “nutritious and balanced” meal mean ? For some daycares, meals include processed foods. For others, only organic foods will do. Ask lots of questions about the foods, how they’re prepared, and how often they’re served. If your child has food allergies or other dietary requirements, be prepared to pack meals or try to negotiate. Don’t be surprised if the daycare serves commercially-prepared cherry popsicles and counts that as fruit.

Accredidation- This seems like it would be an indicator of high quality, but the truth is that accredidation mostly means that the daycare had enough money to pay for it. Yes, there are certain quality standards (that are truly very basic) and most providers meet these expectations. For the NAFCC Accredidation the fee is $900. For NAEYC Accredidation the fee is $1300. These signs of “quality” are more so signs of where the money is invested than anything else. Don’t let labels deceive you either way- take a peek into the program, regardless of if they’re recognized as quality or not. A provider that is registered may treat the children better and have a higher-quality program than a licensed daycare operator. The reason this may happen is because being licensed is more stressful, requires more documentation/paperwork, and has rigid guidelines that take the focus off the children and put it on the “after hours” work a daycare provider has to do.

Food program- Most of the foods that the food program accepts are not healthy or nutritious. It allows fruit juice, milk, processed foods (like fish sticks, tater tots, fries, etc), and commercially-prepared desserts and baked goods to be served. The USDA and FDA are in control of the Food Program and they are the same organizations that approve ketchup and pizza sauce as a vegetable in public schools. These organizations don’t understand quality and advocate foods with little to no nutritional value.

Some true signs of quality:

-Low provider to child ratio (assures quality time with each child)

-Age-appropriate toys for boys and girls (no choking hazards, stimulating toys, all children have something to do)

-Enough equipment for gross motor skill development (climbing structures)

-Supplies for fine motor skill development (arts and crafts, sand play, sorting games)

-Enough space for the amount of children in care

-A regulated provider (registered or licensed)- but still look into “unregistered” homes if you’d like to. generally these aren’t quality, but you can’t judge a book by its cover

-Professional, well-trained, and educated (bachelor’s degree is a plus)

-Enough interest and investment in the field to create a newsletter, blog, mailers, etc (shows ongoing interest in the business and professionalism)

-Provider(s) love children and treat them in a respectful, loving manner

-Proper guidance and discipline is used (as young as newborns- redirection, distraction, etc)

-Quick response to a child in distress (holding, comforting, etc)

-Low turnover (the longer someone has been working, the better quality the program (and pay!))

-open door policy (you should be able to come by anytime and peek into your child’s day)

-See how the provider acts with the other children (is she caring, gentle, kind, patient, and respectful ? Or is she harried, stressed, and overworked ?)

-Honest, open communication (If the provider said every day that your child was well-behaved, you’d begin to doubt her honesty and would have trust issues. A provider shares the good AND bad with parents because the truth is that we all have bad days. This ALONE is probably one of the most important things when looking for a provider but many discover it too late)
-Music, movement, playing instruments, dancing (for older children, this helps them prepare for reading by forming rhythm, tempo, balance, and melody/pitch for reading skills)

-Food prepared daily, made from scratch, with minimal sweets and processed foods

-A probationary/trial period (This lets you test out the arrangement and see if you like the provider, if your child likes the provider, and if the transit is a pain or not so bad. Most trial periods are 2 weeks but some can be 1 month. Ask if the provider has one. If not, ask if they would do one.)
-There should be a handbook, contract, and business plan (these are all signs of professionalism and show that a provider has taken time to sit down and write out all the policies so there’s no guesswork about what the expectations are)

-A strict sick child policy (ensures health and safety for everyone)

-It feels safe and like a home (If you feel cozy, your child will too)

-A positive and pleasant provider- but NOT fake! (you want someone who is “real” to care for your child. This person will be honest with you about happenings, you gain a sense of trust that they are themselves and not trying to impress you or hide things, and there’s a sense of security in knowing they are comfortable in their own skin. This kind of person can easily make your child feel welcomed.)

-preferably no TV in daycare area (Though there are “educational” TV programs for kids, in reality these shows are little more than light and sound displays for children. They need touch, interaction, and play to stimulate their minds, not a TV. They learn about cultures, music, activities, etc in real time. A program that offers cultural foods, holidays, field trips, celebrations and parties, and musical experiences is more likely to be successful. Children under 2 should not be watching ANY TV. In all honesty, children should not watch TV at all- it’s addictive and instills laziness.)

-Light chores, classroom duties, responsibility (This lets a child be a part of the group, helps them learn to take care of things, sets them up to be responsible adults, they learn to respect other peoples’ property, learn self-help skills, and cleaning skills that will benefit them for life.)

-Shared philosophies on child development issues (sleep, discipline, feeding, etc)

-Primary caregiver and continuity of care (In a daycare home, this is evident- the same person is caring for the children from the time they begin till the time they leave. In centers, children are bumped around in their age group by different providers and then when they reach a certain milestone, they are placed into the next group up, with a new group of caregivers. Children need long-term attachment to their caregivers to thrive.)

-Active and responsive caregiving (relationship as the foundation, respect, kindness, trust, love, affection, timely tending, special quality 1-on-1 time during feedings and diaper changes, a sense of gentle yet firm guidance, a pleasant atmosphere, a sociable mealtime, no TV, and child-directed activities)

-Emerging language and literacy (print-rich environment, story time for 20 minutes a day, books available for infants to mouth and play with, etc)

-Screening and Observation (objective observation of child’s activities to help assess if the child is developing on schedule or may be delayed. this helps parents get help from necessary professionals if a delay is suspected- free for children up to 3-4 years old)

-Family Involvement (opportunities for parents to parttake in: committees, parent council, volunteers, assistants, help with projects like fundraising or assembling outdoor play structures, etc)

-Cultural Continuity (The provider is willing to work some of your customs or celebrations into their program. If you don’t celebrate birthdays, the provider respects this and will accommodate your family.)

-Organized (This will help with documentation, tax time for you when it’s time to present your accountant with the year-end summary for your child care bills, and shows that a provider takes her work seriously and respects herself, her time, and your family)

Daycare centers are best for children as young as 2 years old but a daycare home, if it’s quality, will always be better than a center. Children feel relaxed in a home setting and are less anxious than when in a center (it feels institutional, like a doctor’s office). Daycare centers have been known to turn a blind eye to sick children being brought in- this puts all other children AND workers at risk for becoming sick.

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