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Childcare You Can Trust
Guard families don’t always have the benefit of living close to a military installation, where vetted early childcare programs are readily available. So how do you find a civilian provider you can count on? A reputable center will be strong in four areas: staff, activities, setting and transparency. Here’s how to evaluate facilities, with tips from Victoria Viellieu, parent services manager at Child Care Aware of America, an organization that works with more than 400 state and local childcare resource and referral agencies.
The facility’s director should have a bachelor’s degree in a childcare-related field, like early childhood education or child development, and at least two years of experience in early childhood education, Viellieu says. Although standards vary from state to state, recommended benchmarks are based on research by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Also consider the adult-to-child ratio. The smaller the ratio, the better. For infants and young toddlers, there should be one adult for every three to four kids. In older toddler classrooms, there should be one adult for every four to six children.
Ask about turnover and whether the staff is experienced with military kids. “There is already so much change in military children’s lives that it’s important to have a teacher for at least a full year,” Viellieu says.
Learning opportunities are important in any childcare program, and a quality facility will strive to create them. “They can be music, playtime, storytime, nap,” Viellieu says. “For infants, make sure there is supervised ‘tummy time.’ Books should be available within the child’s reach, no matter the age group.”
Whether at a center or in a home-care environment, planned activities should be part of the day, as opposed to just “free play.” No screen time is recommended for infants and early toddlers, but a computer station is suggested for older tots, as long as their time is limited and supervised.
Playtime helps develop social skills and should always be supervised. Children react differently to changes at home, including deployment. If you are concerned that your child is acting out due to these changes by biting, fighting or throwing toys, talk with your provider about their policies on these behaviors.
Facilities should be well-maintained and clean. Equipment and toys should be age-appropriate. And classrooms should provide areas for resting, quiet play and active play.
“There should be enough space for the caregiver to see the entire room at all times. With a quick glance, you should see all of the children, no matter what area they’re in,” Viellieu says. There should never be a separate room for napping; cribs should always be visible.
Also, take a tour during mealtime to see who is supervising and how children are fed.
Most red flags are related to a lack of transparency, Viellieu says. Ask about the facility’s inspection history, whether it keeps current background checks and if you can view the most recent inspection report.
“If the director hesitates, it’s a big red flag,” she says.
Make two visits—one scheduled, the other unannounced. “You want to see how teachers and children are interacting when there is not a scheduled visit,” Viellieu says. “Teachers should be on the children’s level, smiling, bending down. Children should be having a good time. Drop-ins are a quick way to see if the place is right for your child.”
Get childcare licensing info and inspection reports for your state by visiting ChildCareAware.org.