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How Safe Is Your Childcare Facility?

by Lisa René LeClair

Photograph by Twenty20

It is one thing to sit down with your partner and discuss childcare options, but finding one that meets all of the necessary health and safety standards might not be that easy.

According to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at the University of Michigan, nearly 62 percent of parents said it was difficult to find childcare options that met all of their standards. In fact, only about half of the parents polled said they were confident their childcare facility was safe and healthy.

Why? Most say “sketchy” locations and guns on the premises are to blame.

The report, which includes responses from a nationally representative sample of 307 parents who had at least one child between the ages of 1 and 5 years old, takes a deeper look into the struggles parents face when looking for suitable childcare.

When asked to prioritize their checklist, 9 out of 10 parents agreed that childcare centers and in-home childcare providers should have the same health and safety standards in place.

While parents of children attending childcare centers focused primarily on safety (background checks for staff, locked doors), expense and location, those with preschoolers were also concerned about playtime (active play every day in a safe outdoor play area).

On the contrary, healthy meals, clean kitchens and the availability of (or lack thereof) books and educational toys equally distressed parents with kids attending in-home care.

“Parents want to feel confident that all childcare and preschool options meet certain standards," says Sarah Clark, a co-director of the poll. "Parents could then choose their preferred childcare option without compromising their child’s health and safety.”

Even so, finding a childcare facility that meets both health and safety demands (that parents can afford) might be tough for some.

“Parents were clear that certain characteristics would automatically remove a childcare or preschool option from their list,” says Clark. But their absolute first concern was safety.

Of those questioned, roughly 70 percent of parents said they would not leave their child in a school or center located in a “sketchy” part of town. Fifty-six percent added that they would not consider a place with guns on the premises, and 48 percent said the presence of "other adults" (not including staff) was unacceptable.

But those weren’t the only deal breakers for parents. Nearly 4 out of 10 said childcare facilities that allow unvaccinated children to attend are inadmissible, and the same goes for those who allow smokers. Approximately 3 out of 10 said they would not let their kids in a home or facility where a member of the staff was a smoker.

“Parents want to be confident they are making the right choice when it comes to leaving their children in someone else’s care,” says Clark. Though health-related considerations are important for all children, there is an increased risk for children who have special health needs such as asthma.

Parents want to be confident they are making the right choice when it comes to leaving their children in someone else’s care.

“Our poll demonstrates the challenge of choosing a preschool or childcare setting that meets all of a parent’s criteria,” says Clark. “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.”

When searching for a program that meets with your health and safety standards, Clark recommends taking a few extra steps to evaluate each facility. She says parents should look for health-related policies—like vaccination requirements for children and staff, background checks, and security policies—when reviewing the website for cost and hours of operation.

When in doubt, pick up the phone. Clark encourages parents to inquire about other aspects of child safety they feel are important, such as whether a gun is stored in the facility or whether other adults will be onsite while children are there.

Last, but not least, don’t be afraid to drop in unannounced and observe their safety features first hand. This is one of the best ways to set your mind at ease—or not. Either way, you'll get the answers you need.

“The more research parents do ahead of time,” Clark insists, “the more confident they will feel that their children are in a safe and healthy environment.”

Graphic via Michigan Medicine

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