I was talking to a mom the other day—let’s call her Beth—who shared with me a daycare horror story. Beth put her daughter in a daycare near her home that looked quaint. As a new mom, she didn’t know any other parents who had sent their children there but she was in a crunch to find childcare before she returned to work and this place was affordable, convenient, and had an opening. Within a few weeks of her daughter starting at the daycare she saw some red flags—one day she picked her child up with a dirty diaper, other days her child seemed excessively hungry, and sometimes the childcare provider was not forthcoming with details about her daughter’s day.
Ultimately she decided to take a costly leave of absence from work and figure out a better childcare situation. She later found out that there had been complaints filed against the daycare and their license was in the process of being suspended. She felt fortunate she intervened when she did and had the means to take a leave from work. She asked me how parents prevent these situations from happening in the first place.
Finding high-quality childcare is top of mind for working parents and it’s not easy to figure out how to navigate the process, especially as a new parent. But you don’t have to leave the situation up to chance and prayer.
Here are five things you can do as a parent to empower yourself and ensure you’re placing your child in a safe and loving environment.
Get parental approval
If you don’t know parents first-hand that have sent their children to a daycare provider, then ask the provider for references and call them. The more information on a facility or individual, the more comfortable you will feel leaving your children in their care. My company, Winnie, recently compiled a free database of every daycare and preschool, starting with San Francisco where you can get information about the provider, reviews from parents and other critical safety info like the adult to child ratio. We did this because we want to equip parents with the information they need to ensure their child’s well-being and make life easier for working moms & dads.
Check the licensing database
Did you know that there’s a licensing database when you can find information about all licensed daycares and preschools in the United States? If it’s a daycare, even an in-home provider, look at the licensing database. All licensed daycares and preschools are inspected regularly and these inspections are public information. You can also see if any complaints have been filed against the school and even subscribe to updates in case their licensing status changes.
Visit and ask questions
Ask to visit the provider, ideally while children are present. This will give you a feel for their style and if it jibes with yours. Ask questions to understand how the provider communicates with parents, what the physical environment is like (e.g. is it childproofed? Is it clean?) and what children do as a day-to-day routine.
Check their safety procedures
One thing that’s very predictable about children is that they are unpredictable. Accidents and emergencies happen so you want to ensure your provider is trained and prepared for the worst. Check the basics like training in first aid and CPR but also understand their policies around illness, evacuation procedures, and vaccines. Finally, you’ll want to really understand their philosophy around discipline. The most important thing for a childcare provider is that they have lots of patience and never resort to harsh language or violence with your child.
Trust your gut
Even if everything looks great on paper and checks out, you have to trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right to you, you need to act like Beth did and pull your child out of the daycare until you sort the situation out. Beth didn’t have a lot of information to go on at the time, but she acted swiftly and prevented the situation from getting worse.