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What questions should I ask when visiting a potential child care provider?

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With so many new parents and caregivers having to juggle day (and night) jobs along with child care duties, choosing the right child care program is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make.  But with so many program options out there, how do you know what is best for your child? To help those new to the child care experience, it’s wise to do your homework before visiting a center so you will know the right questions to ask and what the right answers should be when interviewing potential programs.

Top 10 Questions to Ask

Here are some of the most important questions that should be asked when looking for a new child care program:

1. What kind of program are you?

In South Carolina, there are four types of categories for child care programs. Be sure to ask what type of program they are and make sure they fall into one of these categories to best serve your child.

  1. Licensed/Approved Providers: This means a program meets basic requirements for health and safety child care and is routinely visited by Department of Social Services (DSS) licensing professionals.
  2. Registered Faith-Based Provider: This means that a program is sponsored by a religious organization or church, meets basic requirements for health and safety child care, and has regular visits by DSS licensing professionals.
  3. Registered Family Home Provider: These programs are required to register with DSS by mail and have an annual unannounced visit from DSS licensing professionals.
  4. Exempt Provider: This type of program only operates less than four hours per day or on school holidays and has no licensing or inspections required by law.

2. Are you a licensed or regulated program?

In order to legally operate in South Carolina, child care programs must maintain a valid license or registration or be legally exempt. State laws have established the level of mandated DSS oversight, which varies by type of provider as described above. That means a family-home provider, which is only required to be registered, can instead choose to meet the stricter standards of licensing. A program’s license is important, but it is not always an indication of quality. It indicates that they are operating legally and in compliance with state laws regarding health and safety. DSS licensing professionals can visit any child care program unannounced in response to a complaint. A parent or caregiver should always ask if a program they are considering is licensed, registered or exempt and should expect to see evidence of their status. 

3. Do you participate in the ABC Quality program?

In South Carolina, each type of provider as described above is legally required to maintain a minimum level of regulation based on the type of care provided. However, providers can choose to pursue a higher-than-required level of oversight to provide a higher standard of care under the ABC Quality program. ABC Quality is a voluntary rating and improvement program that helps parents and caregivers identify high-quality child care and daycare providers.

4. What kind of curriculum do you offer?

Because child care is one of the first times your child will be exposed to their first formal learning experience, make sure and ask the program about what they teach, what kind of structured play activities are offered and what else they do to help promote all areas of a child’s educational, social and emotional development. A good program should offer plenty of opportunities for exploration, structured and unstructured play.

5. What are some of your specific safety measures?

Beyond knowing whether someone is licensed or regulated, be sure and ask a potential program about specific safety and sanitary measures they employ. Some questions to consider include:

  • Does the program always place babies on their backs to sleep?
  • Are sleeping areas clean and clear of distractions and hazards?
  • Are staff members certified in pediatric first aid training and CPR?
  • Does staff keep track of children when they transition from the classroom to the playground?
  • Does the program use cleanliness and health standards for themselves and their facility (including regular handwashing, routine cleaning and sanitation of all surfaces and toys)?
  • What are the policies for bringing labelled food, diapers and bottles/sippy cups?
  • Are snacks and meals nutritious and is food prepared and stored safely?

6. Do you have the recommended number of adults looking after each group of children?

 This is known as the child-to-adult ratio. Recommended ratios are usually lower for younger children. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that child care centers have no more than three infants under 12 months old per adult. The smaller the number is means more one-on-one care for each child. It’s also a good sign if the provider specializes in your child’s age group. If you feel overwhelmed by the number of children at a provider you are visiting, your child will probably feel that way too.

7. What is your policy on parental or caregiver visits?

A good provider typically has an open door policy where visits from parents and caregivers are allowed and encouraged anytime the child care program is open. If you are not allowed to visit at any time (without calling ahead), this is not the best program for your child and you should consider a different program.

8. Do you have a written discipline policy on how you handle behavioral concerns?

Make sure that a potential provider can offer a written policy on their discipline techniques, specifically stating that there will be no spanking, humiliating, or excluding children as a means of punishment. Also, make sure that any disciplinary techniques are used in ways that are clear, consistent, and fair.

9. What is your sick policy? 

Make sure the potential provider has a clear method of responding to illness, including how to decide whether a child needs to go home and how they will notify the family. Also, you may want to ask if you will be charged for days if you have to keep your child home due to illness.

10. Have all adults working in your program had state and national background checks, including fingerprinting?

One of the most important responsibilities of a child care provider is making sure that your child is always safe from harm. One of the ways to accomplish this goal is to ensure ALL adults with access to your child undergo a comprehensive background check including the following people:

  • All adults living in a family child care home
  • All child care center staff members, including directors, teachers, caregivers, bus drivers, janitors, kitchen staff, and administrative employees
  • Every adult volunteering in the program who will have unsupervised access to your child
  • Other adults who may come into the program and will have unsupervised access to your child, such as sports, art, or dance instructors

A child care provider should verify that these checks show that the adult does not have a history of child abuse or violence. Also, be sure and ask if all the adults in the program have been trained on how to prevent child abuse and how to recognize and report the signs of abuse.

By ABC Quality Team on December 15, 2020