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National Child Safety Expert, Alison Rhodes, “The Safety Mom,” is one of the country's leading child safety authorities, providing tips and advice to parents on a broad range of issues facing all children - newborns to teens.

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Selecting a Safe Daycare
by Alison Rhodes

Whether it's corporate daycare, home daycare or somewhere in between, there are many wonderful providers available. It's important, however, to thoroughly research your options and be sure that the daycare you decide upon will provide a safe and nurturing environment for your child. Both at-home, or family daycare, and a large daycare facility can provide a warm and loving atmosphere for your child. But safety issues can be very different in each setting and it's important to know what to look for and what questions to ask before making your final decision.

  • Check the records - is the daycare licensed? Check with your state's Children and Family Services Office on their licensing history and any regulatory violations the daycare might have received.

  • What about background checks? All teachers and potential substitutes should have been fingerprinted and criminal and child abuse background checks conducted. If it is a family day care setting, make sure no one will be visiting the home at any time who might have a criminal background.

  • What is the staff to child ratio? Make sure that, especially with infants, there are sufficient people available to watch each child.

  • Is everyone on staff certified in CPR? Each staff member should be taking refresher courses on a frequent basis.

  • Do they follow SIDS risk-reduction guidelines? Do all infants sleep on their backs? Do the cribs all have firm mattresses and are they free of loose blankets and stuffed animals?

  • Do they have a fire escape plan posted? The nearest exits in case of a fire should be prominently displayed. Fire drills should be conducted on a regular basis. What is the protocol if the building needs to be evacuated during the day - where are the children taken?

  • What happens in an emergency? If it is a small daycare or family daycare setting, what happens if one of the children needs to go to the emergency room? Check to make sure the provider has an adequately stocked first aid kit.

  • Is the outdoor play area safe? A fence, at least 4 feet in height, should surround the perimeter. The area with playground equipment should be covered with at least 12 inches of wood chips, mulch, sand, or pea gravel, or mats made of safety-tested rubber or rubber-like materials. Preferably there is a separate area for the infants to play away from the older children.

  • Is the indoor play area safe? If the age range of the children varies, be sure that small toys, that might be appropriate for older children, cannot be accessed by infants and toddlers. The play area should be free of sharp, hard edges and all toys and surfaces should be clean.

  • What about lunch and snacks? What sort of food is being served at lunch time and snacks. Are any of the items potential choking hazards? Are meats and cheeses cut up into small bites? Is popcorn being served (this should be completely avoided until age 5.) Make sure that all food that is served is cut into small, bite size pieces.

  • Is the facility baby proofed? This can vary dramatically between a home daycare and a large daycare facility but look for the following key items:

    • Electrical outlets not in use should be covered
    • Any outdoor area near a body of water should be fenced and off limits
    • Staircases should be gated off
    • Refrigerators, ovens and dishwashers should be locked
    • Window blind cords should be tied up and out of reach
    • Garages, basements and laundry rooms should be kept locked at all times
    • Heavy furniture that could potentially topple over should be bolted to the wall
    • Cleaning fluids and other toxic chemicals should not be in the children's area
    • Cabinets should have safety locks on them
    • Windows should have gates on them or locks which only allow them to open 4 inches
    • The slats on cribs should be no more than 2-3/8" apart
  • What type of security does the facility have? All doors to the daycare should be locked at all times. It's also important to find out if parents are allowed to drop in and pay surprise visits at any time.

The facility director should be able to answer all of your questions acceptably and provide you with a list of references. Make several trips to the facility at various times of the day to observe how the staff manages nap time, lunch and play time. It's important to see that they can handle disruptive behavior and crying infants in a calm and gentle manner. You'll still worry the first day you drop your baby off, but if you feel comfortable after going through this checklist it will give you a little more peace of mind.

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