The need for daycare is both prevalent and problematic. Nationwide, some 12 million children age 4 and under are cared for daily by someone other than a parent, reports The New York Times. Factor in the millions of older children who need daycare when not in school, and chances are good that either you, or someone you know uses, or will soon start using daycare.
But with spiraling costs and horror-story reports of children being abused or neglected at daycare facilities, what can you do to make sure that you're sending your children somewhere safe?
Here are five legal tips for choosing a new daycare facility:
- Utilize your state's resources. Many states have free resources to help parents looking for child care. More than half of the states post monitoring and inspection reports of child-care centers online, according to The New York Times. Some states may offer additional services. For example, Indiana operates call centers where trained operators suggest child-care options based on information provided by parents such as income, number of children, and location.
- Tour the facility. Even if you live in a state that provides inspection reports online, it's still wise to tour any facility in person before making a decision. Pay close attention to the way staff interact with the children, and don't be afraid to ask about the facility's policies on discipline, television, food, and other important day-to-day activities. Also, thoroughly inspect the premises, especially if the facility is a private home. In one recent case, a California daycare was condemned when code enforcement officials discovered it lacked working toilets and electricity, but only after a child was sickened by ingesting the owner's marijuana.
- Check licensing, accreditation, staff training. Whether online or in person, check whether the facility is properly licensed and accredited by local and state authorities. Also be sure to inquire about the staff: What are their qualifications? What training do they have? You don't want to send your kid to a daycare that's later discovered to be the site of a toddler fight club (where children were forced to fight one another by staff who videotaped the brawls).
- Don't be afraid to change your mind if it doesn't feel right. Just because you've chosen a daycare option doesn't mean you can't change your mind. Entrusting your child to the wrong person can have dire consequences, and there have been many tragic incidents. In one case out of Houston, a home daycare owner left seven children unattended while she went shopping; a fire caused by a pan of oil left on the stove killed four of the children and injured three others.
- You may be able to deduct daycare expenses on your taxes. Whatever you decided to do as far as daycare goes, you may be able to use the cost as a tax deduction.
Finding the right daycare situation may not be easy, but the knowledge that your child is somewhere safe and stimulating is worth the effort.
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