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How to interview a daycare provider

Are you looking for a daycare center? Our childcare expert will prepare you to interview a daycare provider.

The question:

My child is 3 years old. I need to know what questions to ask to make sure my child is left in proper hands. I will be bring my child to a daycare center and want to feel that she is safe there. So basically I need to know where I can see a list of interview questions I can ask daycare provider candidates. - Ilona in Illinois

The childcare expert answers:

The first thing you will need to do is to call the centers you are interested in. These are either centers you found in your telephone book, heard about from friends, or were referred to by a local resource / referral center.First of all, congratulations on the fact that you are giving your day care choice a great deal of thought. As you have already decided that you will be taking your child to a day care center (as opposed to a family day care home), you have obviously answered some questions about your needs. Therefore, I will give you some information that will enable you to make an educated decision.

The telephone interview:

  • Is the center licensed by the state?
  • How many children are being cared for at the center at any given time?
  • How many providers are working at any given time?
  • What is the average length of time a provider stays with the facility?
  • How long has the center been in business?
  • What are the ages of children in care?
  • What is the average length of time a child stays at the facility?
  • What types of activities are provided?
  • Are meals provided?
  • Is the center a member of the USDA food reimbursement program? (this insures good nutrition and staff / child training in nutrition)
  • If diapering and/or toilet training is an issue for your child, ask about the center's handling of this (separate room for changes? method for training?)
  • Is the center NAEYC approved? NAEYC is the National Association for the Education of Young Children. NAEYC is the largest American professional group for childcare providers and others working with young children. The accreditation program is lengthy and thorough, and if the center you are looking into is listed on NAEYC's web page (www.naeyc.org) then the chance that they bother to do their homework is good.

This will give you a sense of the center itself in the sense of child to provider ratio, friendliness of staff, willingness of staff to provide information, and licensing and accreditation.

The next step in this process is to visit the centers. You should do this at a time arranged by you with the day care center staff, when you can bring your partner or someone else you trust. This should be done during regular center hours so that you can watch the interaction the providers have with the children.

Things to watch for and questions to ask at this first visit are:

  • What is the general feeling of the center?
  • Are the care providers warm and enthusiastic?
  • What is the method of discipline?
  • If you have any special requests - how are they received?
  • What are napping arrangements?
  • Is the center sanitary?
  • Are emergency numbers posted?
  • Are all staff required to be CPR/First Aid certified?
  • What kind of regular training is required of employees?
  • How is the payment scheduled structured? (in advance, monthly, etc.)
  • Are parental visits welcomed?
  • Are fire extinguishers and smoke detectors in place?
  • Are indoor and outdoor play areas safe and clean?
  • Are references available?

The requirements for your area can be found at http://nrc.uchsc.edu/states.html.

While you are there, be sure to speak with other parents during their pick up or drop off, even if you have to chase them out to the parking lot to get an honest answer. Their feelings may be tempered by something you aren't aware of, but they are the ones who've actually seen how it works, not just in theory. Then it is important to make an unannounced visit with your partner or friend, to see that things run the way they did on interview day.

Last of all, take your child to the center to introduce her to the staff and other children. Get a sense of how she responds to the surroundings. But most importantly: Trust your instincts. You are the parent who knows your child best. If you don't feel comfortable about the center, it won't work. Best of luck!

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