It could be like a page out of "Daycare Confidential." Clandestine meetings, whispered plans, for-your-eyes-only memos. Although these inner-workings have the makings of a great novel, such secretive stuff isn't welcome when it's part-and-parcel of where your child spends most of his or her days.
So, when it comes to keeping an eye on your daycare center, there are a few things you oughta know. From surprisingly lax supervision to cloyingly false promises, this top 10 spills the beans about companies making a living off childcare. While there are many quality daycare providers and childcare centers available, as with any issue related to your child, due diligence on your part is advised. We'll tell you what to look for in a daycare center -- and what to watch out for -- next.
Security May Be Lax
Your child's daycare center may have security cameras at every turn, but that's no guarantee they're monitored -- or even turned on. Exterior doors may not be monitored, either, which means just any ol' stranger can wander in at will. Security lapses are not something you want in a daycare center, that's for sure.
On the flip side, daycare centers that make gaining entry like an exercise at Fort Knox may have more than your child's safety in mind. Not only are they keeping bad guys at bay, but parents can't come inside unannounced. And that doesn't exactly instill confidence, either.
Your Child's Not the Favorite
The feedback you get from daycare workers as you drop off or pick up your child may lead you to believe your little darling has a special place in their hearts. Unfortunately, were you to hear every glowing compliment they utter to other parents, you'd soon discover every child is a "favorite."
Truth is, those familiar faces at your child's daycare do play favorites -- just not at work. As any parent knows, as much as you love other people's children, there's just something about your own brood that gives them top billing. Every time.
So, when it comes to putting your own child in the care of someone else, enter the proposition with your eyes wide open. Appreciate the compliments daycare workers offer about your child, but be ready to accept not-so-good news, too. If your little darling is disruptive or has an occasional behavioral issue, the people on the front lines of his care will be the first ones to notice it -- and then let you know as well.
Caregivers are Low-paid
Rest assured, your daycare is no brain trust. Daycare workers are counted among the lowest-paid -- yet most crucial -- employees who are shaping the nation's future. Although pay varies by education and experience, many daycare workers earn only minimum wage. Odds are, the really likeable employee in her early 20s who is willing to read your child's favorite book (over and over again) is probably not a college graduate. If she were, she'd seek better-paying work. Or become the daycare center's director and get a steady salary.
The front-line workers who spend the most time with your child often have the lowest education levels. Each state has its own licensing requirements, but in some cases, workers don't even need a high school diploma. In other instances, they're required to have a national Child Development Associate credential or a college degree. Regardless, they're susceptible to high turnover rates. As much as they may like your child, if the daycare down the street pays 10 cents an hour more, they'll jump.
Your Child Tells Us Everything
If you've ever had a private conversation at the dinner table, grateful your child quietly eats her peas and carrots as you discuss a potential move, job change or big-ticket purchase with your spouse, know this: If your child is old enough to speak, your daycare's going to hear about it, too.
The truth is, your child is really, really good at parroting your conversations. So your daycare providers already know about the ski vacation you're planning or your big news about a new baby. That look plastered across their faces? Yes, they're trying to look surprised by your announcement, a move they must practice. A lot.
Toys Aren't Sanitized
Although most, if not all, states with agencies regulating daycare cleanliness have seemingly stringent rules about de-germing playthings, who's to say these guidelines are being followed? Sure, inspections take place from time to time, but few daycares sterilize their germ factories (also known as toys) on a daily or even weekly schedule.
This means that by the time your teething toddler gives a spit polish to the plastic dishware that comprises the daycare's toy kitchen, it's already loaded with minutiae left behind from her cohorts. If you've asked about the daycare's toy sanitation policies to no avail, volunteer to spearhead the effort. Your willingness to help will probably prompt them to action. In addition, make sure your child is up to date with immunizations and instill healthy habits at home, such as handwashing.
Your Child isn't Gifted
Your baby is super-smart. How could she be otherwise with the gifting of such a talented genetic code? Unfortunately, even if they seem to be nodding in agreement, daycare workers may not necessarily agree.
Although your child may be ahead of the curve with the ABCs and 123s, any daycare worker worth her mettle will know this penchant for knowledge evens out among the masses -- usually by the second grade. This means that even the most precocious child (at age 2, anyway) will likely be an average scholar in the end.
Kids Come When They're Sick
Sure, there are rules about fevers, coughs, viruses. You remember reading through the list of conditions that should prompt your child to stay home under your watchful eye -- rather than traipsing off to daycare. And you probably abide by the daycare's policies.
What few providers want you to know is that not everyone does. There's always a parent or two who's not above doctoring their child with a fever reducer just in time for an 8 a.m. drop-off. And there's often a daycare provider willing to look the other way, despite the runny noses or rattling coughs.
You can help prevent this cycle by asking the daycare director to remind other parents about its too-ill-for-daycare policies. And, plan to keep your own child home if he or she is sick. It also helps to share information with the daycare about your child's illness, especially if it's contagious.
A License Doesn't Guarantee Safety
We're willing to bet a state or municipal employee won't inspect a daycare with the same eye for detail as a worried parent. Just keep that in mind the next time you hear a daycare provider espouse the benefits of operating a licensed facility. In most states, any provider who cares for more than 12 children must be licensed. The granting of a license simply shows the provider's facility has met minimum standards for health, safety and teacher training.
Don't get us wrong, we're glad there's an overseeing regulatory agency intent on making sure all the outlets are safeguarded. But we won't be lulled into a false sense of security. Even licensed daycares can have danger zones: Child gates that aren't firmly attached, door hinges that pinch little fingers, burn hazards near the cooking stove. Even other children with a penchant for biting their best pals.
Superfoods Aren't Served
If your daycare center serves breakfast or lunch, don't count on it being a balanced meal made with the freshest, highest quality ingredients. Most daycares buy in bulk for the cost-savings and then overcook the fare into shapeless submission. Unless they're serving pressed-meat nuggets that day, which as we all know, rarely deviates from the shapes they were stamped into upon mass creation.
Most daycares follow state regulations that map when meals should be served, but most nutritional requirements are lax and non-specific. What exactly does a "nutritious and balanced" meal mean? For some daycares, meals include processed foods. For others, only organic foods will do. Ask lots of questions about the foods, how they're prepared and how often they're served. If your child has food allergies or other dietary requirements that differ from the norm, be prepared to pack breakfast, snacks and lunch.
If a daycare's menu isn't up to snuff, you can try to make up for this lack of nutritional power by insisting on fruits and vegetables in your child's off hours. But it sure would be better if brain-building superfoods were served all the day through.
You Can Stay, All Day
You're a working parent, so it's necessary your child spend time in daycare. It makes perfect sense. But, did you know you could go, too?
Daycares may not advertise it, but parents are welcome to stop by -- any time -- for an impromptu visit. What's more, you can stay as long as you'd like. Eat a brown bag lunch with your child. Watch him tackle an art project. Or sit by her during story time. It's an eye-opening way to spend your next day away from the office. You may find your little darling is, indeed, too good for the place. Or, you may just get the biggest surprise of all: Your child's daycare is a wonderful place to grow, surrounded by caring helpers with every good thing in mind.
HowStuffWorks reports on ChatterBaby, an app developed by a UCLA scientist and mother to take the guesswork out of a baby's cries.
- BabyCenter.com. "Daycare Centers: Licensing." (Feb. 23, 2011) Babycenter.com. http://www.babycenter.com/0_daycare-centers-licensing_6049.bc
- Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Child Care Workers." 2010-2011. (Feb. 23, 2011) Bls.gov.http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos170.htm#training
- Day Cares Don't Care. "What Daycare Workers Say." (Feb. 18, 2011) DaycaresDontCare.org.http://www.daycaresdontcare.org/WorkersSay/DaycareWorkersSay_page_1.htm
- Epinions.com. "Secrets That Daycare Owners Don't Want You to Know." (Feb. 18, 2011) Epinions.com.http://www.epinions.com/kifm-review-757E-238D9E63-39F5120F-prod3
- New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. "What You Can Do to Stop Disease in Your Child's Day Care Center." (Feb. 23, 2011) Nyc.gov.http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/dc/dcstop.shtml
- Parenting.com. "Preschool Confidential: What Teachers Want You to Know." (Feb. 18, 2011) Parenting.com.http://www.parenting.com/article/preschool-confidential-what-teachers-want-you-to-know?page=0,0
- Simply Daycare. "Daycare Licensing Requirements." (Feb. 18, 2011) SimplyDaycare.com.http://www.simplydaycare.com/daycare-license-requirements.html