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Choosing a daycare: How to keep your child safe

Choosing a daycare is one of the most difficult decisions parents face. It's where your child will spend 40 or more hours per week. It's where they'll learn, grow and interact with others during some of their most formative years.

A daycare situation that seems promising initially can quickly turn into a nightmare. Despite intensive regulations governing both daycare centers and in-home providers, neglect and abuse still occur with frightening regularity.

Every parent's nightmare

In one of several high-profile cases, a Twin Cities daycare center was recently shut down after repeated license violations that endangered children's safety - including one incident where a toddler was locked outside the center in freezing temperatures for more than 20 minutes. Allegations have since surfaced that another child was physically abused, deprived of food and water, and subjected to other forms of mistreatment while at the center.

These unthinkable situations are a recipe for countless sleepless nights. They're an alarming reminder that you can't know with 100 percent certainty what goes on while your child is in someone else's care.

Tips for making the right decision

You can, however, do everything in your power to protect your child by thoroughly vetting their daycare and keeping close tabs on their situation.

When choosing a daycare, ask the following questions:

  • Is their licensure current and in good standing?It only takes a minute to look up daycare licensing information online. Steer clear of in-home providers who aren't licensed. Likewise, be wary of any providers who have a conditional license, outstanding compliance violations or a history of citations.
  • Do they have the right staff-to-child ratio?Daycare centers must maintain a 1:4 ratio for infants, a 1:7 ratio for toddlers, a 1:10 ratio for preschoolers and a 1:15 ratio for school-age children. In-home providers are limited in how many children they can care for (including how many infants and toddlers), depending on the type of license they hold.
  • Do they have adequate liability insurance?Liability insurance isn't required for in-home care providers. However, it's wise to choose a provider with sufficient coverage so that if (heaven forbid) something did happen, you wouldn't be left empty-handed. It also shows that your provider takes their responsibilities seriously.
  • Do they have thorough written policies?These policies not only set the framework for the care your child will receive; they also get everyone on the same page, parents and providers alike. Policies should cover key issues such as illness, parent notifications, behavioral problems, meal guidelines and the like. Even in-home providers should have detailed written policies covering these same subjects.

Before making a final decision, be sure to ask for references, look at reviews and drop in unannounced.

Of course, it's important to stay vigilant even after your child is enrolled. Keep the lines of communication open, and don't hesitate to speak up if something doesn't seem right.

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