What kinds of questions should I ask a potential care provider?

Finding someone else to care for your child can be challenging. In order to find the best possible childcare provider it is important to ask a lot of questions. But what kind of questions should you ask?

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11  Answers

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Sorry this is so long, but it is what I have posted and provide to parents looking for care. A good provider will be addressing all of these issues and letting you know the information without you even having to ask. It should all be covered in their policy and procedure manual, which they should be willing to provide prior to an interview, along with their references. In my case, an interview should be a meet and greet to make sure that our personalities mesh, not an informational meeting. Feel free to contact me.

Identifying Quality Child Care

Too often, a woman becomes pregnant and decides she wants to stay home and take care of her child, and to make additional income, she decides to do daycare. The inherent problem with that, is that she has little to no experience in childcare, absolutely no parenting experience (a BIG difference from babysitting for a couple hours here and there and more closely related to childcare in a home setting), and no educational background in child development, child psychology or curriculum and teaching. Without the experience and education, it's the blind leading the blind and the reason why so many providers stop doing it within a year. A childcare provider should have the experience and education necessary to give a child the utmost care possible. For the emotional, educational and physical well-being of your child, who will be spending up to 50 hours a week in this person's care, take the time to find a quality provider, and be willing to compensate them appropriately for their professionalism. The first five years of your child's life, and the care received in that time, WILL shape the rest of his/her life.
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There should be no more than two infants under six months no matter what age your child. Even one infant takes a great deal of time, and if you have an infant, you want them to get the time they need, and if you have an older child, you want the provider to have enough time to give him/her quality care as well, rather than spending all the time taking care of the infants and the older children being “watched.”

Small infants require attention. They need to be talked to, read to, played with, and held. While the swing and exersaucer are fine for short periods of time, the most important thing for a young infant is quality attention and tummy time on the floor with their own toys. This is what builds the strength necessary for crawling, walking, writing, building, and all the other developmental milestones they will be reaching toward. After 6 months, infants are usually more mobile, independent, playing with toys and require less direct care.

Always remember that your child is constantly growing. You want a childcare setting that will keep pace with him/her. Research is definite that consistent care, meaning not changing primary care givers, is highly important in the first eight years of life. Some European countries, and several schools in the states, have instituted schooling where the same teacher follows the children from kindergarten through third grade and then gets a new batch of students back at the kindergarten level. This consistency is even more important at the 0-5 year range. The provider you choose should be able to provide a stimulating and safe environment for an infant, but should be in line with your expectations for toddler and preschool care as well, including kindergarten readiness initiatives.

Children age 12 months through 30 months seem to pose the most danger to an infant. They do not understand the delicacy of the infant, lack impulse control, are FAST, and cannot be easily diverted. Infants are fascinating to a toddler this age and accidents can occur readily. Even with constant vigilance, a chucked block or poke in the eye is waiting to happen. Infants should be segregated from this age group in some way whenever a home provider’s attention is diverted, such as making meals, one-on-one attention time, etc. A yard gate or pack-and-play is appropriate but not fool proof. A swing, high chair or carrier still leaves the infant exposed to little fingers.

Many two-year-olds can master the push-down cabinet locks. Strap locks are better. Knives and other deadly items should be stored within cabinets locked with magnetic locks, which are rated to age 10.

Daycare should be relegated to some section of the home. It is too difficult with a family in residence for a provider to keep all items from all family members that are unsafe unreachable throughout a household.

Daylight is important to the human condition. Look for a provider whose daycare space is open and light filled.

While a set curriculum, assessments, and benchmarking are not necessary, a general view towards a learning environment and limited television are encouraged. The provider should have a variety of stimulating activities and age-appropriate toys available.

A significant amount of outside time is imperative. It engages the majority of their senses at any given time and provides opportunities for endless exploration. Writing in the dirt with a stick is just as important a fine motor skill as drawing with crayons. Studies indicate that outside time is vitally important to the cognitive growth and physical well-being of young children. The more time a provider has the children engaged in outside play and learning the better.

Children find safety and security in consistent routines. It also helps with the gradual learning process of understanding the concept of time and that there is a predictable rhythm to their lives. Without this, children become stressed and fearful. While a minute-by-minute daily agenda is not necessary, a provider should have a consistent routine for major activities, such as meal times, outside time, nap time, etc. that is followed fairly closely.

Health and nutrition in early childhood set the stage for the well being of future teenagers and adults. What tastes are experienced by the age of two, even if disliked, can eventually be liked in adulthood. Palates are created, not born, and we all want a child who asks for fruit over candy and like a 2-year-old I have, begs for spinach at every meal. You want a provider who follows the USDA nutritional guidelines and hopefully exceeds them. Look for a provider who has a written menu and includes a lot of super foods - tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, serves only whole wheat bread and related products, serves fish, and overall has a nutritious menu with few sugary sweets and high-fat foods. No juice should be served to a child under the age of 4 due to their concentrated acids effect on young digestive systems and emerging teeth.

Music speaks to the soul of children at any age. Look for a program that encourages children to explore a variety of musical types, dancing, and playing instruments.

An educational activity that engages multiple senses is retained nearly 80% better than one that engages a single sense. Listening to a story is fine, but acting it out, clapping at parts, participating, is so much more meaningful to the cognitive advancement of the child. Look for a provider that engages the children in learning rather than just teaching.

The play area should be safe. The only danger should be coming from other children playing inappropriately or the child him/herself doing so.

Only go with a licensed provider. The annual checks by the state act as an assurance that the provider will keep on top of general maintenance and keep updating their knowledge.

Ask to see their most recent state evaluation. Small violations are not unexpected and not a cause for worry. However, by simply asking, you will be able to see how the provider responds, if they will be open and how they communicate. However, if there were any gross violations that concerned the state in their past, they wouldn’t have a current license.

The best source of information is other parents of children who are or have been in the provider’s care. Ask for references and contact every one.

A provider should have a clear understanding that they are charged with the emotional, physical and intellectual growth of a child and be able to clearly express how they do that.

Childhood is a time of testing boundaries and developing an understanding of how one fits into the world. A provider should have clear, simple and consistent rules for behavior and be willing to apply appropriate consequences for misbehavior. These should be in alignment with the parents’ home boundaries and consequences so that the child can develop a sense of empowerment over their choice of actions.

Pay attention to the providers vacation and time-off policy. Many home providers take off several days or weeks more a year than most companies provide a single person. The best situation is a provider who has more than one back-up person, even if back-up care is not guaranteed.

The average turn-over rate of personnel in center care is 30%, and due to the number of hours your child is in care, at a center s/he will always have at minimum 2 primary care givers and possibly two early/late providers daily, and new providers every year as s/he advances in age and moves through the system. There is a lack of consistency in care and expectations inherent in that situation that is not present in a home daycare situation. A good home daycare is the best developmental situation for a child, based upon research findings.

If center care is your only choice, often due to hours of operation, because price is usually not the issue, then your best choice will always be one that has national certification by NAEYC. Just as you want a licensed home provider, you want a center that is certified. It is also important that you contact references for a center. Just because they state that they do curriculum and have it to show, doesn't mean that the individual teachers actually USE it or use it appropriately. (I did an internship covering several different local centers, and learned that first hand! Even the most expensive/exclusive one was a disappointment in this area, and they marketed their curriculum as the best!) Ask current and former parents if they could see a measurable increase in skill sets due to the center's influence.

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I am the director a child care center. Centers require more elaborate background checks, and also have lower staff to child ratios. If you are looking into a home ask how many kids they have and how old they are. ask about their disipline techniques, if they reply timeout immediately, i would not recommend this place. There are many other methods before resorting to timeout. Stop by unexpectedly!!! If a place seems irritated by an unanounced visit, then they prob arent doing what they should be! I have been doing child care for 11 years, and on top of that am one of the most overprotective parent ever! If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at jennifersnodgrass@hotmail.com

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As an in-home, licensed family child care provider, I encourage parents to go beyond the list of questions they've pulled up from the resource agency. (Don't overly worry about whether I have all my outlets covered, etc. - my licensor goes over all that on her visits). Ask about ME, the person you and your child will be seeing every day and having a relationship with. Ask "How do you handle stress? What do you do when the 3 year olds are squabbling, the baby just pooped, the phone is ringing, and the dog is barking because someone is at the door?" Having the skills to juggle running a business from your home is harder than people think, we keep a lot of 'balls in the air.' There's the children in care, each of their parents, the provider's own family, and the provider's needs all to consider. "How much training (classes) do you take in a year?" In MN, there are only 8 hours needed, and some providers don't even get them all in! "What's the best way for us to communicate with you?" Phone calls, texts, emails, Post-It note reminders, written note, back-and-forth notebook - both parties need to be comfortable with the system. And last - and for me, the most important - I'm looking for parents to PARTNER with. Fit and compatibility are everything in a care relationship -if that's not what YOU'RE looking for, that's fine, but choose a different provider.

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I am a home child care provider, I usually never get any questions asked from my parents but that may be because I have covered all there questions. Before you meet the potential caregiver, write down all questions because sometimes once you are there you tend to forget some, also bring the child along. Sometimes you can tell if it is going to work just by how comfortable the child is. Remember that whoever you chose will be spending alot of time with your child. Some questions I recommend you asking is 1. How many children do you already care for. I am licensed and I can only have 5 under 5 . I have to include my own children under 5 in this count. 2. Ask for a menu plan. I always have a menu planed for each day. Snacks include 2 of the 4 food groups, lunch includes three. 3. Ask for a daily plan, this way you know that the caregiver has put thought into their day and the childern aren't going to be bored or sitting infront of the T.V. 4. Ask what there plan is if there is an emergency and "If there is an emergency and you have to leave do you have a back up person who will be here." There has been a time where I had to take my son to the hospital. I called my parents and my back up person since my parents would not be here to pick up their child before I left. Also, ask who this back up person is. I use my mom as she can come and go from work. She also is the director of a Daycare.
The most important thing is that you leave knowing that you will feel comfortable leaving your child with the provider. There are many differnt types of providers all are good, some are more relaxed like me where I have a plan but I also let the children choose things they would like to do. This kind of provider is better for children who like flexability and the chance to choose what they do. There are others who have a plan and they stick to it. This type of provider is best for children who like structure. Like I said both are good only you know which type is better suited for your child. I hope this helps. Good Luck

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Before we get to meal plans make sure you decided what you want from your daycare services. They will interact with your child/ren a lot. One of the things that should be asked is about their background. A criminal record and clearance that comes back clean doesn't always tell you about the caregiver and who they socialize with. One story that hit us a couple years ago is the woman came back clean as a whistle but found out her boyfriend was registered sex offender. They didn't ask because he didn't live in the house but he was coming in and out of her house and her daycare center. He wasn't staff or a back up plan so they over looked him even though he was there almost everyday. All of the suggestions by Jacki are great but before you get to asking about meal plans you need to know the environment and safety of the house or center. Ask can you come observe. What is their pick up and sign out policy. Do you have to show I.D and use code words etc. Depending on your situation how do they handle custody issues. See who is coming and going. Ask other parents you may meet what their concerns are. How do they handle bullying. If their child is in the equation will they be fair to your child if an issue arises between your child and hers. Can she be objective? They may seem clean as a whistle on paper but the environment maybe shady. Also important, ask about disiplinary procedures. Too often we see the nanny cam showing people abusing our children. Especially if they aren't quite at talking or explaining stages. I had this happen to me...Make sure your child is eating. My son lost 4 lbs in 9 days and I couldn't figure out why till I happen to pop in one day and saw one of the staff eating the lunch I packed for him. She would tell me he ate and I would chatise him for telling me he was hungry when she told me he shouldn't be. I found out other parents had that concern but none of us seemed to talk to each other about it. Bottomline: ASK WHATEVER QUESTIONS YOU NEED TO MAKE YOU COMFORTABLE. No matter how silly they may sound. YOU know your children best and I agree bring your child/ren. Their response to this person or persons will speak volumes to your having peace of mind. And whoever you decide on watch and pay attention to your children. If something is wrong you will KNOW! Good luck. I know good, affordable daycare is hard to find.

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Ask for lots of references and follow through with them.

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#1 what are your core beliefs in faith? Do you share these beliefs through any daily activity such as prayers at meal times?
#2 what are your basic behavior rules and how do you correct the age of my child when required?
#3 what are the basic cleanliness guidelines followed for keeping the toys clean and germ free?
#4 If my child would become very stressed at my first leavings how would calm and sooth him/her?

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For me this is a tough question only because I was in the same position, wanting to hire a child care provider.
I thought I was asking all the right questions, I even had my C.A.S worker helping me with which questions to ask.
My result was.....I'm still at home with my girls.
I found that a lot of child care providers did answer my questions correctly, the only problem was/is that it's not only about what questions you ask them it the whole package.
Their body language, eye contact, appearance, how my children acted around them and if made any attempt to interact with them, and if I got a good vibe from them and liked them.
It's not always about what questions to ask......Anyone can respond correctly and provide all the information asked for.
It's everything, and for me I haven't found the right fit, not only for me but my girls too.
Another thing you could do if your children are of age which mine aren't is, at interview time bring in your child/children and let them ask a few questions of their own. Doing this could give you some insight on how they interact with your child.
Hope this helps out!

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Here is a big one! It weeds out those who may be heavy handed.
Ask a potential nanny what she/he thinks about using "tough love" on occasion. One potential nanny interpreted this as her cue to tell us spanking is necessary on occasion and washing kids mouths out with soap too.

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Will my Kevin's Gerber Life Benefits roll over into a gold nugget for him and mature for his future.?

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how long in business. are they in your school district for when the child becomes of age to go to school. complaints filed against them. firearms in the home. and are they safely put away and locked. if you have an interview it should take about 1 hour to an hour and a half. they should show you all their credentials as well as their home and their goals with your child/children. if you go home feeling good and wake up saying I want to go there then sign on the dotted line. If not keep searching. I am a child care provider of 23 years. Best of luck for you and your family in this search. I do recommend family childcare.

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What are the teacher qualifaction. The background screening on teacher. What do they do when children are sick. What kind of curriculum they teach. How many children will be in the class. Is the daycare inspected by the state inspectors. Fire and health inspections.

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