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Ask these questions to avoid a daycare disaster

As yet another daycare tragedy leave parents shaking their heads asking "How does this happen?", Neil Hedley offers the questions to ask so it doesn't happen to your child.
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Neil Hedley, July 15, 2013 4:00:24 PM

After the death last week of a 2 year-old in an unlicensed daycare in the Toronto area, parents and parents-to-be have plenty of questions, not just about this tragic case, but about daycare in general. For many, the shocking news came as a wake-up call that perhaps some of these questions are long overdue.

No worries, here’s a quick guide about the State of Daycare in Canada, and what you need to know.

First of all, here’s the thing you need to know about the requirements imposed on unlicensed daycare facilities: There aren’t any. Having to meet requirements would infer some sort of licensing or other oversight. Basically, as long as they’re not breaking provincial laws about the number of children that are legally allowed to be on the premises, they’re in the clear.  In Ontario, for example, looking after more than five unrelated children under the age of 10 requires a license (there were 27 children at the Toronto area home where the toddler died last Monday).  In British Columbia, that number is two.

Frankly, I think it would be easier on everyone if we would just call “unlicensed daycare centres” what they are: Babysitters.  Because to me, “Unlicensed daycare centre” suggests something far more formal, like expertise, or training, or standards.  And while I’m sure there are amazingly qualified, trained people taking care of other people’s kids all over the country, the lack of oversight lumps the wheat together with the chaff, and there’s no easy way for parents to tell the difference.

With a recent study revealing that only 20 per cent of Canadian children have access to licensed daycare, it might be helpful for parents to apply the same standard of scrutiny to an “unlicensed daycare centre” that you’d apply to a babysitter. You’d have certain expectations going into that scenario – even if it were in your own home – and you should demand satisfactory answers to those same concerns from someone else.

It’s up to your province to set the standard, and there’s not even consistency among the provinces as to which agency sets the rules. In Ontario, it’s the Ministry of Health. In BC, it’s the Ministry of Children and Family Development, while Nova Scotia has the Department of Community Services.

A massive organization of unions and child care advocacy groups has come together to produce a tremendous project at rethinkchildcare.ca, and a set of tools called “Finding Quality Child Care” will debut online in the fall.  Between those two projects, virtually every angle of concern about child care nationwide will be addressed. In the meantime, we’ve assembled some of the basic questions that parents should ask before making any kind of daycare decision.

Basic questions to ask a potential daycare provider:

  • Are you licensed?  (And whether the answer is “Yes” or “No”, ask for evidence of either the license, or that an unlicensed provider is in compliance with the few local regulations that exist.)
  • Do you have training in both first aid and CPR?  (Again, require proof.)
  • What background and training do you have in child care and education?  (Guess what? Proof.)
  • How many people will have contact with my child, and what is their training?  And did you perform a background check on them?  (Again, trust but verify.)
  • Show me policies / procedures / facilities for eating, sleeping, playing, swimming, off-site traveling, emergencies, allergic reactions, medications, security, and even cleaning supplies.
  • Show me the steps taken for basic safety in the facility, including things like access to stairs, electric outlets.

It should also be standard practise to assume that you’ll drop in unannounced from time to time.  If that notion makes the provider uneasy, run. Run away as fast as you can.

If any of these questions seem arrogant, presumptuous or just plain over-the-top, remember that ultimately you are interviewing someone for an extremely high-value product; the successful applicant could possibly have a great deal of influence on your child’s life, so choose wisely, interview strenuously and don’t be afraid to demand satisfaction.  In fact, one could make the argument that complete satisfaction shouldn’t be a goal, but a minimum acceptable starting point.

MORE THOUGHTS FROM NEIL HEDLEY:

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