Child care safety: Learn what to look for and what questions to ask when choosing a safe child care provider

Choosing a safety minded child care provider

Nothing is more important than your child’s safety, especially when in another’s care. How can you be sure that your child care provider is providing the most secure environment for your baby? Here are some simple observations to make and questions to ask:

1. Does your child’s teacher keep a close watch on your child? Some programs have a high child to teacher ratio (many children to one teacher) making it easy for your child to go unsupervised. Each state has a recommended ratio of children to teachers, based on the child’s age.

Choosing a safety minded child care provider

2. Are hazards out of reach? Get down your child’s eye level and see what hazards are available. Is the teacher’s purse within reach? Other children’s backpacks? Soap on the sink or other children’s medicine? Make sure to visit your prospective child care provider at a busy time of day – say, during lunch, to make sure that safety procedures are being followed even during a hectic time. Be sure your provider can handle the frustrations of child care – Shaken Baby Syndrome is one of the leading causes of death in children. At naptime, make sure your provider puts infants under 1 year to sleep on their backs. Babies who sleep on their stomachs are almost 13 times more likely to die of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
3. Discretely tug on the furniture. Is it bolted to the wall? Dressers, bookcases, and entertainment centers can be deadly if your child climbs on them and they tip over. In a child care center, make sure that folding tables leaning against the wall are safely secured and cannot fall. Are the stairs gated? Are the cabinets locked? Are the electrical outlets covered with childproof covers?

4. Find out what their outings policy is. If you are not comfortable with your child care provider driving your child in a car or taking your child swimming, say so. Does your child care provider insist that all medicines (including Tylenol) be labeled with your child’s name and have written administration instructions? They should.

5. Is your child care provider using new equipment? Make sure that car seats, cribs, portable play yards, toys, and highchairs are in good repair and have not been recalled. Make sure the playground equipment is sturdy and clean, without rust, splinters, or sharp edges. Climbing equipment, including swings, should have deep, soft ground covering (no pea gravel, which toddlers can swallow) to cushion falls. Obvious hazards, such as swimming pools and busy roads, should be securely fenced off. Every year almost on quarter million children are taken to the emergency room for playground-related accidents.

6. Is your child care provider licensed? States have differing laws governing family child care providers and day care centers, but in general, providers that are licensed are more likely to follow strict safety procedures. The provider should be comfortable showing you her license – it is usually posted in a visible location. Ask for references and be sure to call them. Most licensed child care providers have had a criminal background check (for the provider and any assistants.) Some states provide a licensing and complaint history for a licensed provider. Call your city or state’s regulatory agency to find out as much as you can.

7. Is your provider concerned with how to contact you in an emergency? As part of enrolling your child, you should be asked for your contact numbers and an emergency backup contact. Are important numbers, including the telephone number and street address of the provider itself, posted prominently? A parent might be called upon to direct emergency personnel and accurate information is vital. Does your provider have a cell phone for field trips – including the back yard? Does she check her messages regularly? In case of emergency (such as severe weather, terrorism, or sudden illness) what is your provider’s backup plan? Some providers notify parents of a substitute caregiver (such as a neighbor or relative) as well as publishing a location where they will take the children in an emergency. Does your provider practice fire drills – even when the children are napping? They should.

8. Does your provider have guidelines about who is authorized to pick up your child? You should be asked for a list of authorized pickup people and be assured that a stranger will be asked for identification and you will be contacted if someone not on the list tries to pick up your child. Do they have a policy that everyone who transports your child – even you – uses a child safety seat? Many providers will have an extra seat that they will loan to, for example, a grandparent who may not have one.

9. Does your provider have a rule about food safety? For example, small children should not eat whole grapes or hot dogs that have not been cut length-wise because these are common choking hazards. Most providers require children to sit in a seat while they are eating to minimize the risk of choking. Does she have a rule about not serving peanut products to a child under two (without your permission)? Most medical experts agree that a life-threatening allergic reaction can be avoided by keeping small children away from peanuts.

10. Does your child are provider know CPR and Infant and Child First Aid? Make sure that she has taken a Red Cross approved class recently and she keeps her skills up to date.

Don’t be shy about your child’s safety! Ask, observe, and follow up — it’s important!

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