“Safety and health factors are important to parents, but too often, parents aren’t sure how to determine if a childcare option is safe and healthy.” Parenting is one of the most heavily debated topics there is. But at the end of the day, don’t we all want the same thing – healthy and safe kids? It’s a parent’s top priority, and it’s why finding childcare can be so anxiety provoking. A new national poll from the University of Michigan shows that it’s also remarkably challenging. According to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at the University of Michigan, two out of three parents struggle to find childcare that meets their safety and health standards. That’s a pretty troubling statistic, especially given the fact that dual-income families represent the overwhelming majority in the U.S. – meaning that most parents rely on childcare. The poll report includes responses from a nationally representative sample of 307 parents who had at least one child ages one to five. These parents shared their desired and required criteria for childcare centers or individuals they entrust with their kids’ care. The poll revealed that, for parents looking at daycare or preschool centers, safety and practical matters are of utmost importance. Parents are seeking locked doors, a safe outdoor play space, and background checks for staff. For parents considering an in-home daycare, the most important considerations turned out to be clean kitchens and healthy food, plus available books and educational toys. Parents also have deal-breakers when it came to selecting childcare. The most common are safety-related. About 70 percent of parents report that they would not send their child to a school or center located in a “sketchy” area, and 56 percent note they would never choose a place with guns on the premises. Forty-eight percent of parents say the presence of other adults besides staff is also a disqualifier. Health matters, too. Roughly four in 10 parents would not consider a childcare facility that allows unvaccinated children to attend. About three in 10 parents wouldn’t choose an in-home or center option where a staff person smokes. Unfortunately, 62 percent of parents say it’s hard to find childcare options that meet their standards. But perhaps even more unsettling is that only half of parents feel confident in their ability to even discern whether a childcare setting is safe and healthy, making the daycare search a stressful process. Parents don’t want to compromise on the level of care their children receive, and yet, many are not even sure how to tell what’s a good fit or not. Poll co-director Sarah Clark advises parents to go the extra mile in assessing childcare options. She suggests taking the following steps:
Make a drop-in visit to evaluate safety measures, like the security of the entrance and the location of a playground in relation to the street.
Research their health-related policies, such as vaccination requirements for kids and staff, and look into their rules about background checks and security policies.
Talk to the director about other health and safety concerns.
“The more research parents do ahead of time, the more confident they will feel that their children are in a safe and healthy environment,” says Clark. She points out that some health and safety matters are clearly observable during a daycare tour, while others – like how frequently toys are cleaned – will require you to inquire. Having gone through the childcare search myself four years ago, I believe the more questions you ask the better. A simple Google search yields tons of great examples of what to ask when interviewing childcare providers. If it’s an option worth pursuing, the staff will certainly take the time to sit down with you and address all of your concerns. Some great checklists can be found on Care.com, Parenting.com, and BabyCenter.com, which has separate lists for home daycares and daycare centers. Some questions are more obvious than others: Are the teachers CPR and First Aid certified? How often are the staff and kids required to wash their hands? Are babies placed to sleep on their backs on a surface free of any objects? How and where are meals and snacks prepared and stored? Before doing my research, though, I never thought to ask: What’s your method of keeping track of children as they transition out to the playground or to another classroom? What’s your disaster plan (in the case of a fire, for instance)? I also never thought to purposefully visit a center during a busy time, like lunch, to observe how the staff operates under pressure. In addition to questions concerning health and safety, another important and relevant question is, “What’s your turnover rate?” Last year, NPR reported a 30 percent turnover rate among childcare workers nationally. That number is not so surprising when you learn that, in 2016, the average pay for childcare workers was less than $10 an hour, and nearly half of childcare workers relied on public assistance. “Specialists in early education say low pay doesn’t just hurt child care workers,” NPR reports. “It has an effect on babies and toddlers, too, and poses a major challenge in creating high quality child care.” One thing’s for sure: Childcare reform is needed in our country. If you’re currently struggling to find good quality care for your kids, know that you’re far from alone. Remember knowledge is power. Do your homework and show up prepared so you can make the best choice possible for your child and family. While you may never find the perfect fit, you can strive to find a place that puts your mind at ease, so that your only worry during the workday is that pressing deadline and not your child’s health or safety.