Avoiding Day Care Nightmares
These activities are an important way your child will learn
socialization skills -- that is, how to get along with other kids, says Kim
Cavender, MSE, a child life specialist at Children's Medical Center of
"A lot of times, people don't think about what experience
the child will have, just that someone is there to watch them," Cavender
says. "They assume that if someone is there, and it's safe and affordable,
But it's not that easy. Parents need to visit the center
several times, at different times of the day, to see how the staff interacts
with the children, experts recommend. Once your child begins attending the
facility, you should still expect unrestricted -- and unannounced --
"Find out if you can come in unexpectedly. If you can't,
this is a big red flag," Cavender says. You should be allowed in all
parts of the center, including the bathrooms, kitchen, nursery, and outside
play area. In these areas, you should check for cleanliness, appropriateness of
toys and playground equipment, and condition of playthings.
In addition, learn how many workers are available for each
child. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends one staff member for
every three kids up to 2 years old, and says a group of about six is ideal.
These recommended numbers increase as the children age; at age 6, for instance,
the AAP suggests a staff/child ratio of 10 to 1 in a group of 20.
But no matter what the ratio, Workman says it's best if a child
has one staff member who is the primary caregiver.
"We want them to grow a bond," Workman says.
Davis says that it's important to find out if the center
requires all children to have up-to-date immunizations. Most states require
this, so be prepared to present a copy of your child's immunization
In addition, he says, find out what the center's policy is on
sick children. The medical recommendations are that it's safe for a child to
return to day care 24 hours after a fever is broken. And they need to stay home
when they have diarrhea.
The cost of child care varies greatly depending on the region
of the country, the services provided, whether the facility is accredited, and
the age of your child. The NAEYC estimates that costs range from $4,000 to
$10,000 a year; some top-of-the-shelf programs can be more expensive than a
private college. The average: $286 a month, according to the 1997 National
Survey of Families from the Department of Health and Human Services.
WebMD's sources say you also should check the following when
choosing a day care facility:
- Is the diaper-changing area separate from the play and kitchen areas?
- Are hand-washing facilities available for the children and the staff in
diaper areas, kitchens, and bathrooms?
- What are the hours of operation?
- Has the place ever been involved in a Child Protective Services
- How long has each staff member worked there?
- How long has the primary caregiver for your child worked with that age
- How often is cleaning done?
- Are electrical outlets covered and/or grounded to prevent electrocution if
a child tries to stick something in them?
- Are they all trained in CPR and first aid?
- Is the outdoor play area fenced?
- What is served for meals and snacks? Be sure to explain any specific
dietary requests to the caregiver.
- Find out whether they have options for part-time care, such as two days a
week rather than five.
Most of all, Workman says, "I encourage people to pay
attention to your gut feeling. How do you feel there? How are you treated? How
do you think your child will fit in?" If you don't feel comfortable, she
says, chances are your child won't either.