Finding the right daycare is tricky. There’s the cost, hours, and location to consider, yes. But an near-infinite-seeming amount of other factors, too. Is it safe? Is it clean? Is it up to code? Are the staff properly trained? Does it have a sensible illness-exclusion policy? Luckily, the American Academy of Pediatrics has a fairly comprehensive list of questions parents should ask potential early child care providers. But there are additional red flags parents need to keep an eye out for when selecting a facility. As such, we spoke to a variety of childcare professionals about some daycare warning signs all parents should keep in mind.
The Space Isn’t Kid Friendly
Take a look around. Do you see things that don’t belong? Does it look like a warm, friendly place for kids? Are there sharp edges? No smoke detectors? Is the place dirty? Then you might want to reconsider. If you were to see that the sockets were uncovered or the teacher’s pocketbook is out where a child can get to it,” says Marisel Morales, who has worked in daycare for nearly 30 years. “Then it’s probably not safe for their child. So a quick look around the room should be enough to tell them whether the environment is safe or not.” Other signs to look for: Are there poison control guidelines out in the open? What about CPR guidelines? Are Emergency Service numbers posted?
Mindy Bennett, the Director of Family & Community Engagement Content ant Child Care Aware of America suggests that, when looking at daycares, parents rely on their five senses. “Do they see lots of activities that children can engage in? Do they see children working together? Do they hear happy children? Do they hear teachers that are talking and pleasant tones with the kids?” she says. “If it’s a family childcare home, are they smelling smoke or anything like that? Is there anything unpleasant that would cause your child to have an allergic reaction?” It’s about taking in the scene and flagging any concerns that might arise.
They Are Not Being Honest About Their Ratios
The ratio of staff to children is extremely important in childcare. The exact ratios vary from state to state and depending on the age group of the children (you can see a generalized breakdown here) but there need to be an appropriate number of staff per children as well as a maximum number of kids allowed as well (this is also mandated by the state but the max is often 14).
“Many daycares have a higher number of students without increasing the number of caregivers to grow their margins, but this is a big safety concern,” says Jessica Chang, co-founder and CEO of WeeCare, a mobile platform that helps caregivers create sustainable home daycare businesses. “If there are too many kids, it becomes hard for teachers to keep control of the classroom.”
There is a High Turnover
If teachers are unhappy with the environment and the facilities, they will leave. So it’s important to take a look at turnover rates. “If a facility has teachers that have been with them for a long period of time, not only are they treating them well, but the teachers are happy to be there,” Morales says. “And when teachers are happy to be in a place, they’re happy to be teaching the children.”
Be sure then to ask staffing questions and find out what the level of contentment is among the people working there, adds Bennett. “You can ask in simple ways, like, ‘How long do your teachers usually stay with you?’” she says. “Many child care sites that have teachers with them for a long time will be proud and tell you, ‘She’s been here with us for 15 years!’ or something along those lines.”
That said, however, Chang notes to not always take turnover as a sign of trouble, as low pay rates can mean that teachers move on regardless of how they feel about the site. “A better indicator is to find another parent,” she says, “and ask them how they feel about the school.”
Regardless, it’s important to also ask about employee vetting: What kind of training does the staff have? Have background checks been performed? Are all staff certifications in place? And so on.
There’s a Lack of Communication
As parents, you both have the right to ask as many questions as you want and to have them answered. If, when you first sit down with the director of a prospective daycare center, and you don’t feel as though your questions are being answered, that’s a definite alarm bell. Up front, a daycare center should be letting you know how you can get in touch, what methods are the best ways of connecting, and how long before parents can expect an answer.
“If you have a concern and it’s either not addressed or keeps getting put on the back burner or they’re not answering your email or saying, ‘We’ll meet with you at some point, that would be very concerning to me as a parent, as a director, as a teacher,” says Maia King, Center Director for KinderCare’s University Children’s Center,
There’s No Set Schedule
Routine is essential for children, and a daycare center that has no schedule or curriculum in place is a trouble spot. It should be posted “We recommend asking if there there is a set schedule for each day,” says Chang, “If there isn’t one, or the provider can’t explain it, it should be a red flag that they are not putting enough emphasis on your child’s learning.”
With this in mind, King stresses that it’s very important for parents to spend some time observing how the center functions before committing to it. “It will give them that real sense of understanding what their child’s day is like, how the routine works, and why it works while observing the teachers, not only with their child but with other children.”