Day care is a fact of life for many families. The National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education, in conjunction with the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Public Health Association, has created guidelines for optimum care of young children, which could serve as a checklist for parents. While state licensure generally guarantees that a facility meets minimum safety standards, there is no substitute for a thorough personal visit. Consider not only the daily routines but how well-equipped the day care center is to handle emergencies. Take your time and visit more than one location before making the decision about which facility is right for your little one.
The ideal staffing level for toddlers is no more than four children to one adult, with a maximum of eight children and two adults per group. At least one adult in each group should be trained in pediatric first aid, including CPR. Background screening should be performed on all staff members. Ideally, the staff should include head teachers that are college-educated. Basic safety training, including the identification and containment of illness, should be provided for all staff.
Examine the child care rooms for childproofing. All outlets and sharp corners should be covered, and all flooring must be maintained to minimize trip hazards. Toxic materials, including medications, must be stored in locked cabinets away from the main child care areas. Ensure that child safety gates are in place across stairs and that railings are not spaced in such a way that a child’s head could get stuck. All stairwells should provide handrails on both sides. Hot water should reach temperatures no higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit (something you could ask about), and check that all heating units are inaccessible to children. Ask the staff to point out the locations of smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers. Make sure all cords are out of children’s reach. Look for tip-over hazards. All furniture most be in good repair. Check toys and games to ensure that there are no small, removable parts that could pose a choking hazard.
Look carefully at all playground equipment to ensure that it is clean and in good repair, and is appropriately sized for toddlers. Also take a look at the grounds. The area should be free of debris and hazardous areas, such as holes, stumps or branches. The playground must be enclosed with a fence or natural barriers. Shock-absorbing material must be placed under all equipment, and any water hazards must be surrounded by a fence.
Ensure that all food is properly stored and handled to minimize the chances of food-borne illness. Ask about food preparation areas to make sure that they are properly maintained and off-limits to toddlers. Also check that the tableware is clean, properly sized and safe for small children, with no chips or cracks. Children this age should not be served foods that present a high risk of choking, such as hot dogs or marshmallows. Toddlers must be supervised throughout all mealtimes. Ask the staff about care plans for children with food allergies, as well as those who are on restricted diets.