Whether you’re looking for a day care provider, a nanny or just a casual babysitter so you can have a date night, finding and vetting quality childcare can be really hard. Parents put a lot of trust in word of mouth, and online marketplaces like Care.com, but as the Wall Street Journal reports, sites which list childcare providers don’t always vet them or run background checks. In the end, that’s up to us parents.

In a statement to Motherly a Care.com spokesperson explains “we do not currently run preliminary screens on the care businesses listed on our site but have made the existing notice about that more prominent,” and that Care.com is exploring solutions to verify the identities of users posting on the site. The company has recently changed its process for approving and managing individual caregiver profiles. As of this writing, newly enrolling caregivers are able to prepare applications to jobs and complete their profiles, but Care.com isn’t releasing any applications or messages from new caregivers on the site until the new preliminary screening processes are complete.

Care.com recommends parents confirm the personal information of potential candidates found on Care.com, interview them and run a background check, noting that it is “a process that takes time, thoughtfulness and rigor.”

So here’s what parents need to do when hiring a childcare provider:

1) Do Google and social media searches first

Google the name of any day care center, day home provider or babysitter you are considering and see what comes up. If the day care made the news due to an abuse claim or other problematic situation you might want not even want to continue looking into them and can just scratch them off your list.

If you’re considering a day home provider, look not only at the social media accounts for their business but also at any public social media accounts for any adult living in the home.

2) Verify any claims about licenses

It’s unfortunate, but sometimes day care providers will create online listings stating that their day home or day care center is licensed by the state when it, in fact, is not. The process for checking on a provider’s licensing depends on what state you’re in.

According to Child Care Aware, “in some states, parents can view inspection reports online. In other states, parents must contact their local licensing office for that information.”

To check if your state lists the inspection reports online, check out the Child Care Aware resources map and click on your state.

3) Ask about safe sleep practices

Day homes and day cares should never be putting children down for naps in strollers, swings or car seats, but unfortunately this does happen frequently and can lead to tragic consequences.

Parents should ask questions about where and how babies and children nap at a day care or day home. Babies should be sleeping in a firm crib, bassinet, or Pack n’ Play that meets the safety standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the American Academy of Pediatrics notes. There should be nothing in the crib with them.

Toddlers and preschoolers should be napping on safe, low surfaces (like cots). In center-based care settings a staff member should be supervising napping children at all times.

Day care centers or day homes should be able to show you where and how the children nap. If they don’t want to, that’s a big red flag.

4) Criminal reference checks

Any adult who is present in a childcare setting should have passed a criminal background check. For center-based care, ask how the center checks the backgrounds of all staff members, from early childhood educators to janitors and kitchen staff. Day care centers should be running comprehensive background checks on all employees who have access to the building.

For home-based care, any adult living in the home should have a recent criminal background check available for parents to see. This includes the spouse of the caregiver and any adult children living in the home.

If you’re hiring a nanny or babysitter, they too should have a recent criminal record check from the local police service handy. If they don’t have a current copy, they should be comfortable with you requesting they provide a new one.

5) Ask about supervision ratios (and make sure they’re accurate)

When we’re talking about infant care, an adult should only be caring for about four babies at a time. Child Care Aware recommends centers align with the following best practices, and ensure workers are always within sight of each other so that no one worker is never alone with the kids.

  • For babies 0-12 months: 3-4 children per caregiver, max group size of 8 children
  • For babies 13-23 months: 4 children per caregiver, max group size of 8 children
  • For 2-year-olds: 4-6 children per caregiver, max group size of 12 children
  • For 3-year-olds: 7-9 children per caregiver, max group size of 18 children
  • For 4 and 5-year-olds: 8-10 children per caregiver, max group size of 20 children
  • For 6 to 8-year-olds: 10 children per caregiver, max group size of 20 children
  • For 9 to 12-year-olds: 12 children per caregiver, max group size of 24 children

6) Ask about health and safety practices

If vaccinations are a concern for you, ask if your care provider accepts staff and children who are not vaccinated so you can find care that aligns with your beliefs. Center-based daycares should be able to show you where the first aid kits are kept and how many staff members (all of them, ideally) have been recently certified in First Aid and CPR. There should be policies regarding the storage and dosing of medication for children.

Home-based care providers should also be certified in CPR and First aid and be able to show you where medications are stored (out of reach of children) and how they make sure medications and doses do not get mixed up.

In both center-based and home-based care, exterior doors should be locked at all times.

Bottom line: Parents need to be detectives

When choosing a center or individual to care for your child, it’s important to ask as many questions as you have. It’s not rude, it’s just our jobs as mamas. Ask about curriculum, discipline, nutrition and don’t be afraid to follow up.

Ali Dodd is the founder of Shepard’s Watch, a community dedicated to advocating for safe child care. Dodd lost her infant son Shepard four years ago when his day care provider put him down for a nap in a car seat and he asphyxiated (it should have been a flat crib, as per the AAP). As Dodd recently told Fox 25 News in Oklahoma, parents should never be afraid to ask questions of a potential or current child care provider.

“It feels like, by you bringing this up, you may be rubbing your provider in the wrong way or you’re communicating to them that you don’t trust them. But a good provider would never feel that way. Ever,” she explains.

“If parents have to be a detective I want them to know how to do that. It’s the most important thing to do before putting your child in day care while you’re at work,” says Dodd.

Dodd suggests that parents don’t just do background checks when enrolling in child care, but also periodically as your child remains in care. “I would set an alert on your phone if you’re using a home or center. Put a recurring alert because you won’t know until you check. And no one is going to tell you,” she explains.

If you live in a state where inspection reports are online, it’s pretty easy to take a peek every few months.

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