Talk to a safety expert and they’ll tell you that redundancy is the easiest, best way to ensure protection. Evaluating childcare is no different. Provincial and municipal inspectors are tasked with reviewing and ensuring that licensed caregivers are following standards and protocols. This is a good start. But to create redundancy you’ll need to investigate on your own. The good news is whether you use a licensed daycare or an unlicensed homecare the process is the same. The key is to ask critical questions and to drop-in, often and at random times.
Here’s what you’ll need to ask:
1. What is your staff-to-child ratio? Does this ever change?
First, you want to make sure that the child centre employs enough workers to meet minimum provincial standards. For example, in Ontario, a minimum of three staff must be present for every 10 babies under 18 months. A facility must have one staff for every five toddlers, aged 18 to 30 months, with a maximum of 15 kids in a given room. In B.C., child centres must have a minimum of three staff for every 12 kids under the age of 30 months. The other reason you ask this question is to determine what the facility policy is if a staff member gets sick.
2. What qualifications do the caregivers have?
A Rutgers University study showed clear links between early learning and development and teacher qualifications. While the study concentrated on 3 and 4-year-olds, it found that kids learn the most (socially, emotionally and cognitively) when teachers have four-year degrees and specialize in early childhood education (ECE). Apparently, those teachers are also more affectionate with the children and are less likely to punish the children under their care. Also be sure to clarify what other adults or older children will be on the premises and whether or not they have qualifications, police checks, security clearances or up-to-date CPR/first aid.
3. What activities or routines can my child expect?
Studies show that children thrive best in a structured environment. This means scheduled meal, snack and nap times, as well as structured play to help develop different skill sets. Look for a minimum of seven key learning areas: sand, water, art, books, blocks, puzzles, games and dress-up. Make sure that each area is also age-appropriate. And look out for televisions. Even the presence of a TV in a daycare should be a warning sign, since it can be too tempting for overworked staff to use an “electronic” babysitter.
4. How do you handle discipline?
Statistically, it’s rare for caregivers to emotional, verbally or physically abuse the children in their care, but disciplinary tactics must also be examined when choosing childcare. Behaviour, such as raised voices, public scoldings or time-outs are not uncommon but may be forms of discipline that are not acceptable to you. Ask your caregiver how they discipline. Give them scenarios and ask them how they would react and observe them with other children.
5. How do you communicate my child’s progress?
Many licensed caregivers will have daily, written reports or logbooks that help communicate to parents how their child is progressing and what each, specific day was like. If these are not available ask why not, and what alternative the caregiver will provide.
6. Do you offer access to specialized help?
Parents with children that have diagnosed difficulties may want to consider finding a licensed facility that has experience with negotiating the different governmental agencies that help parents with finding and paying for one-on-one extra care. One Ontario mom was able to find free one-on-one care for her late-speaker son after a municipal daycare helped her negotiate the bureaucracy and paperwork for the aid-worker application.