One of my first jobs was as a preschool teacher. I’ve worked at large, corporate daycare center chains, as well as private, religious centers. As a result of my experiences, I chose to never use a daycare center for any of my seven kids. Ever.

Now, that being said, I don’t believe all daycares are scary or to be avoided. I do believe a parent must do due diligence, and make repeated efforts to check on whether the PR meets reality. Is the center delivering on the promises it makes to parents? No one should ever be limited to a few questions, visit once or twice and then only pick up and drop off their kids at set times. The drop in is a vital part of a parent’s responsibility to make sure their children are being well cared for.

Some schools even have video camera feed so parents can check in via video to see for themselves how their children are doing and being cared for. Just keep in mind even with this extra peace of mind, you aren’t seeing everything. How are the snacks being prepared in the kitchen? Did a child come into the center yesterday with a scalp full of lice, and now you are unaware of the risk for your child? Checking in and checking up isn’t being a pain in the butt type parent; it’s being a good, cautious parent!

14 Musical Chairs?

One trick a number of daycare centers will pull is to move staff around when an inspector shows up to make the ratio meet state standards. For instance, I was a 4-year-old teacher, but was moved over to the toddler room one afternoon when we knew an inspector was en route to our school. The reason? There were too many kids in there for the one teacher present. We had a low attendance day in the 4-year-old room, and the director basically just willy-nilly moved kids around to even out the numbers. Kids were confused because instead of being in Miss Katrina’s class, for an hour or so they got sent to a room they had never been in before with a teacher they didn’t even know. What’s more, I was in a room with toddlers where I didn’t know the kids, the normal activities or the kids’ particular histories.

13 Butcher, Baker And Daycare Teacher?

A related issue to not covering the required child to teacher ratio numbers, is the practice of moving support staff into rooms to appear like there are enough teachers. A director at a center I was employed at sometimes would pull the cook from the kitchen to appear as a teacher to make the numbers work when we know an inspection was about to begin. The real problem was that the cook barely spoke English, being from Egypt, and she definitely didn’t posses the qualifications of a licensed teacher. She would smile and pat the children, but had an inspector asked a single question or stayed to watch any interaction, the ruse would have quickly fallen apart.

Yes, there can be some out of balance numbers at times, but it shouldn’t be a regular thing, or something that couldn’t be covered by the director filling in for a teacher. If there are more holes needing filled, there’s a more serious problem with staffing.

12 The No-Surprise Surprise Visit

After working in a small, private center I was surprised to learn of the coordination among franchised corporate daycare centers. I quickly learned there was no such thing as a surprise visit from a state inspector. As soon as an inspector popped up at one location, an elaborate telephone tree was activated and all the sister facilities in the area were warned so that the numbers could be covered by staff, the required soap and hygiene products would be filled and in place, and any non-sanctioned practices abruptly stopped before the inspector showed up.

I remember watching the director and assistant director racing madly from room to room, counting kids, grabbing little ones and rearranging them into new classes, and racing around with armloads of soap refill bottles and paper towels. When the inspector left, the kids went back to their normal classes, and the support people to their usual posts. No subs were called in, and the directors didn’t fill in any missing slots.

11 Nothing To See Here!

At both centers I worked at, when children had discipline issues, say tantrums, snatching things repeatedly from other children, and acting out in general, the bosses told me as a teacher not to share such details as long as other parents weren’t involved. For instance, if a child socked another child in the face and left a mark, you’ll have to own up to that problem in the classroom. But no harm, no foul…and no report. So when you pick up your child daily and are told, “Junior was wonderful today! No problems here!” you shouldn’t be so sure that is an accurate portrait. Unfortunately, the directors believed sharing any negative info, even if in a supportive and concerned manner was too risky; it may give the parent an overall negative viewpoint of the daycare center.

10 The Cover Up

If your child comes home with a story that doesn’t sound quite right, it’s always imperative to follow up as soon as possible, while the memory is fresh. Know that yes, teachers are human and they are capable of having not so great days where their judgement may not be up to par. But there are lines that mustn’t be crossed, and if you think perhaps that has happened with your child, or even another child in the presence of yours, it is your duty to follow up. Determine what happened, and if it seems difficult to get it straight, go up the chain of command.

If you think your child or another child may have been abused, you need to report it to child welfare or the police for there to be a professional inquiry and justice served. It may be beyond you. However, if it doesn’t quite measure up to that severity, then you must decide if you feel comfortable with your child continuing in the same center with the same teacher.

9 Under Or Even Unqualified Staff

Different states have different qualifications for preschool teachers and aides. Some require a certain number of hours in early childhood education classes, others may require an associate’s degree, and still others may have exams or supervised hours of childcare contact. Whatever is required, you should be familiar with the statutes in your region and check on your child’s teacher’s background. Ask the center director or the teacher directly what their experience is and get a feel for if you are comfortable with it. No, she or he need not have a Master’s degree in Child Psychology and work for minimum wage, (let’s be realistic here) but neither should she be a fifteen-year-old with a neck tattoo and a slight heroin problem.

8 OMG Cooties

Some new parents can be a little over the top with germ phobia, but hygiene is a crucial concern with daycare centers. A little laxness with cleaning, or sharing of materials, and you can quickly have a potentially dangerous outbreak of a virus such as rotavirus, where very young children can end up hospitalized with serious diarrhea and vomiting problems. That’s just one example of the nastiness that can occur when proper diapering, hygiene and handwashing procedures aren’t followed. Then there’s the issue of sanitizing areas where children eat, nap and play. For instance, toys need to be cleaned properly and children need to be watched to be sure they are washing their hands well. Ask questions, observe the care going on in the child’s room, and look for proper cleaning materials to be on hand and used in the directed manner.

7 Security Details

While it’s highly unlikely your daycare center will be the target of kidnappers or worse, it’s still important to know what their day in and day out security procedures are. Do you have a sign in for pick up and drop off, and just how well do those checking the IDs or signatures know the parents or caregivers with the children? Are there security cameras and an alarm system for an “escaping” child? But what’s more, where are those camera’s video feeds going? Are the cameras actually operational?

Frighteningly, it’s very common for a business to have decoy cameras to provide a false sense of security, and that extends at times to even daycare businesses. Ask the hard questions about security procedures, cameras and what if’s…like what if a noncustodial parent tries to pick up a child? Or what if a domestic violence situation flares up at the center, perhaps with a gunman? What is the staff trained to do in various emergencies? Are all staffers CPR certified?

6 Daycare Plagues

Daycare centers are notorious for outbreaks of illness, because of the close contact, the number of children, and the general non-hygienic habits of babies and little people. Rotovirus, infectious skin conditions, and flu are just a small sample of the possible health dramas. Ask the director about any past cases of illness that affected a class or the center as a whole and how parents were notified (if they were). Ask what methods are in place to prevent such outbreaks. Then ask the teacher later the same general questions and see how closely the answers seem to line up.

What are the rules for keeping a child home? Fever, vomiting in last 24 hours or what? Some unscrupulous daycare centers may try to avoid getting word out on illnesses, worrying that it will hurt their PR image. Of course that’s unwise and unsafe, and typically will backfire.

5 Who Are You, Really?

Schools, police forces, hospitals and churches have faced sharp criticism or worse when they’ve fallen down in the rigors of checking out the people they put in contact with our most vulnerable populations. We expect these places to do full employment and background checks, thoroughly go through references and check school and job records. Many centers even run an applicants fingerprints, or sometimes school districts require such vigilance.

Ask about a center’s procedures for hiring, and what kinds of events would cause an employee to be terminated. Domestic violence? Drug offense? DUI? Battery? These are issues that may be uncomfortable to broach, but they are vitally important to know ahead of trouble.

4 Unsafe Equipment

While large, national chains may have standard furnishings, toys and playground equipment, smaller chains or Mom and Pop daycares may have other dangers lurking about in the form of recalled cribs, ill-fitting crib mattresses, and toys that are hazards, as well as playgrounds with dangerous elements. Keep in mind that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report 200,000 children are sent to ER’s across the nation for injuries sustained on playgrounds.

Culprits can include older equipment with exposed sharp parts, damaged fall surfaced, and rusty parts. All centers should be apprised of recalls affecting daycare furnishings and equipment, but it’s something you might want to double check on for your peace of mind and your child’s safety. Choking and strangulation dangers are some of the other hazards to watch for.

3 Bullying Babies

While you worry about an abusive caregiver when leaving your child in daycare, another concern you should have is abusive peers. It’s important that the teachers and aides have an effective and consistent behavioral method. How do they encourage positive behavior among the very young, and how do they manage children who are apt to become unmanageable? You need to know how the discipline policy at the daycare is implemented, and if it exists on paper only.

Ask teachers how often they have to deal with behaviors such as hitting or biting, and how exactly they deal with it? What if they encounter a youngster with real behavioral problems not managed by their discipline policy? How are the other children kept safe? You don’t want to wait until your darling comes home with a bloody nose or bruise to find out.

2 Hit The Road Jack

If there is a staff member who is found to be in violation of employee policies particularly regarding discipline or safety, you don’t just want the person fired. You want to be informed what happened, what necessitated the firing, and for the sake of other children, you want to know appropriate authorities were involved so the teacher won’t just be moved on to another center. Ask the director what policies are in place should an incident occur that requires the termination of an employee’s tenure.

Unfortunately, many schools and daycares have been guilty of passing on bad apples, leaving behind dozens of victims throughout an area. The reason they may be reluctant is that they hate to reveal something so negative and upsetting happened on their grounds. It’s a PR nightmare. But bad publicity is a small concern (or should be) compared to children’s safety.

1 The Worst

Of course the biggest concern of any parent is that their child could be abused or neglected while out of our care. It is the stuff of nightmares, and unfortunately, it doesn’t happen. One thing to keep in mind is a center where there are lots of windows and openness so no one teacher will feel sheltered and unseen. Abuse isn’t the only fear, either. There have been cases of youngsters wandering off from a play area or even through a door, and slip off unnoticed! Or it’s happened that children have been forgotten on center buses and left behind, or the center closed with a child still inside.

If that weren’t enough, you have to be concerned that your child is fed often enough and given plenty to drink. Is your baby really being changed as often as needed? Be vigilant, drop in unannounced more than once, and report any concerns immediately.

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