Many parents assume that, because states license day care centers, these facilities are safe and don't need parental scrutiny. Wrong!
Requirements vary from state to state. Some state codes are more stringent than others, and there are safety measures that aren't addressed by codes at all. Carbon monoxide (CO) detectors, for example, are recommended for all homes—and should certainly be in all day care centers—but most states don't require them in centers.
Tales from the Safety Zone
Some parents spend more time choosing a car than selecting a day care center. The Child Care Connection, a resource and referral agency in Montgomery County, Maryland, conducted a survey of childcare providers—both family day care and day care centers—and reported that 75 percent of parents spent less than an hour observing a program before enrolling their children. More than 11 percent signed up their children without even visiting the program first!
Enforcement varies, and inspections may be spotty. Even if a center passed its last inspection, that's no assurance that it's still in compliance. That could have been two years ago! All these are reasons you should check out for yourself the center's safety features before leaving your little one there. After you've enrolled your child, stay alert to how well safety measures are followed, and don't hesitate to speak to the director if you suspect they aren't.
A thorough evaluation of a day care center takes time. Plan to make at least two visits at different times of the day. That way you'll see how well the children are supervised during class time, mealtime, and outdoor play.
If all this seems like an enormous time commitment, think of it this way: If you invest the time upfront to find the right place, you'll be less likely to have to go through the whole process again because you made a mistake the first time!
How Many Kids Is Too Many?
Staff-to-child ratios are an important safety consideration. If a caregiver has too many to look after, the risk of injury is increased. The size of the group in a room is also important. Too many kids in one area creates more noise and chaos, making supervision more difficult.
Every group of children in a center should have at least two caregivers. The national health and safety performance standards published jointly by the American Public Health Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics provides these guidelines for desirable child-to-staff ratios:
|How Many Caregivers Are Enough?|
|Children's Ages||Child-to-Staff Ratio||Maximum Group Size|
|3 years old||7:1||14|
|4 years old||8:1||16|
|5 years old||8:1||16|
|6-8 years old||10:1||20|
|9-12 years old||12:1||24|
Find out, too, about the staff's experience and qualifications—as well as the rate of turnover. Day care jobs are generally low paying, and some centers have high turnover rates. Try to find one with a stable staff, because changing caregivers is upsetting to a young child.