1. Parenting

Top 10 Questions to Ask a Prospective Child Care Provider

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You like the location and agree to the established rate for child care. You're comfortable with the hours of operation. And you are informed about the licensing requirements and any accredition preferences. So, are there other things you should ask before deciding to place your child with a certain child care provider? You bet. Here are some key questions to consider before making this important decision.

1. What is your policy regarding sick kids?

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Working parents have the additional stress of determining what to do when a child is sick. Different centers have varying policies, and you want to ask how a particular center handles the problem of sick children. Do they send kids home with any sort of sniffle or is fever a requirement? Or, are they extremely lax in letting sick kids remain creating an exposure risk to otherwise healthy kids? Parents should also find out what care options exist when a child care provider becomes ill.

2. Do you have a sick care option?

For some parents, finding a child care provider who has a "sick care" option for mildly ill children is a job-saver. A child with strep throat won't be allowed at many facilities and at school. However, once antibiotics have kicked in, rest and relaxation, combined with isolation from other kids may be all a child really needs. Some facilities have a sick care option at an extra charge to allow parents to still have care for their kid. It may be worth asking about.

3. Do I have to pay for days when my child is absent due to illness or vacation?

If your child is out for three days due to illness or away for a week on a vacation, do parents still have to pay for child care? In many cases, the answer is "yes." After all, a center's or caregiver's overhead costs continue. Some facilities offer a break if a child has an extended illness and others offer a certain number of days as credit to be used toward vacation, illness, or other type of absence. This detail should be stated in writing to parents, so be sure to look for it.

4. What is your discipline policy?

This can be a really sensitive topic for parents, and it is important that you thoroughly understand what discipline approach is utilized and that you are comfortable with it. Most centers and care providers have written guidelines for review. Not only do you want to find out what they do, but you also want to clearly understand what type of practices are prohibited. If you have a particular concern, ask to meet with the center's director or have a one-on-one with a provider.

5. What types of meals and snacks do you serve?

Parents and providers often have different notions about what is a nutritionally balanced and suitable meal or snack. Parents must be sensitive to the fact that child care providers cannot tailor meals to individual children (unless parents bring the food); however, particular requests or items to avoid should be noted. Any food sensitivities must be stated and clearly understood (such as allergies). After that, ask what the stance is on occasional treats, junk food, and food preparation.

6. Do you charge extra if I'm late picking my child up?

Some child care providers charge $1 for every minute a parent is late picking a child up after closing hours. Others are more lax and a few may even offer parents a couple of exceptions due to extenuating circumstances. However, a few minutes is one thing; 30 minutes late is typically never acceptable. After all, your lateness prevents staff from going home and on to their planned activities. Some facilities may even have firm rules for tardy parents in which they can choose to cease care.

7. What is your staff turnover rate?

It should come as no surprise that staff turnover rates at daycare centers are high. While 30 to 40 percent is the average annual turnover, it doesn't mean that is the rate at your preferred day care. It is important, however, to ask. You want to know what the frequency of staff changes because it can affect your child's comfort and sense of security if changes are too frequent. And, high turnover can signal a serious problem in the center's operation.

8. What is your overall child care philosophy?

Does this daycare focus more on nurturing and providing quality care or does it have an academics component as well? How are providers trained and what do they determine is "age appropriate?" What types of enrichment activities are done and how will parents be informed of these? Do kids all do everything or is there a way for youngsters to choose their interests? Does the provider offer stations of choice? Is there a schedule that is adhered to each day?

9. What are your security/safety policies?

Parents should look around at the overall environment and determine their level of comfort in its cleanliness and overall safety protocols. What is the supervision ratio? Is there a security check-in and check-out in place and is it enforced? Is it well-ventilated, well-lit and a comfortable temperature? Are toys sanitized on a regular basis? Are there camera monitors? Is the outdoor play equipment installed correctly?

10. Can I observe/visit my child whenever I like?

Parents should feel welcome and wanted, and know that their assistant can be a valued addition to activities. Does your potential child care provider ask whether you are interested in volunteering or whether you'd like to help out at an upcoming class party? Do you feel welcome to come and go at any time or are there regimented visiting times only? Some prep programs may want to limit access because it can cause a disruption to learning time; others embrace parental interaction at any time.

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