Is your day care safe? 5 tips to pick the best child care provider

Department of Children and Families offers advice

ORLANDO, Fla. – Picking a day care or facility to take care of your children is one of the most important decisions you will make as a parent or guardian.

To help you make the best choice, the Florida Department of Children and Families offers the following tips when it comes to selecting a child care provider.

1. Research the facility

The DCF said parents should check to see if the facility is licensed by the state of Florida. The agency provides an online search tool that lets parents or guardians search for child care providers in their area. 

The search tool provides location and contact information for the facilities, as well as programs and services offered. Parents can review what kind of curriculum the facility offers, as well as read over recent inspection reports and histories. Inspection reports with violations are marked with a red dot next to the inspection date. 

2. Review inspection reports

The DCF conducts regular inspections of child care programs across the state, depending on the type of program and the services provided. There are five types of programs: child care facility, large family child care home, licensed family day care home, registered family day care home and religious exempt program. 

The DCF inspects licensed child care facilities three times a year, or approximately every four months. According to the DCF's website, licensed family and large family day care homes are inspected twice a year. Registered homes, religious exempt providers, public and non-public schools are not subject to annual inspections unless they are Gold Seal designated or offer School Readiness, according to the DCF. 

When reviewing inspection reports, parents or guardians can see the standard classification summary that applies to the provider. Each standard is marked a status of a compliance, non-compliant, not monitored or not applicable. If the standard is deemed noncompliant, the report will have a description of the violation and the violation level. 

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There are three violation levels: Class 1 is the most serious and is issued for occurrences that could result or do result in death or serious harm to the health, safety and well being of a child. Class 2 violations are less serious than Class 1 violations and could potentially pose a threat to the health, safety, or well-being of a child. A Class 3 violation is the least serious violation and poses the least potential harm for children. 

The DCF encourages parents to review a child care provider's inspection history.

"Parents can complete a provider search and review their prior inspections to see what type of violations they have been cited for," a DCF spokesperson said.

3. Be observant while touring facilities

As a parent or guardian, your priorities are making sure your child is safe and healthy. The DCF suggests being observant while touring facilities because "you can tell a great deal by watching and listening to what is going on in a classroom or home," according to the department. Look to see if the kids are happy and enjoying their activities. Do the teachers seem to be attentive, loving and nurturing to all of the children? Do you feel good about leaving your child at the facility for several hours a day? The DCF encourages parents to trust their instincts and pay attention to any uneasy feelings they may experience during a visit. 

After choosing a facility, the DCF suggests parents meet and talk to their child's new teacher often and visit the provider occasionally to make sure they're happy with their decision. 

4. Ask questions

Parents are encouraged to be prepared and ask questions. The DCF provides a checklist of what parents should look for when it comes to quality child care. While visiting facilities, the DCF suggests asking the child care providers several questions, including if they are licensed or accredited, are background checks conducted on staff, do they practice drills regularly, what is the adult to child ratio and whether the staff has received CPR training.

If you have any questions or concerns while touring a facility, write them down as you think of them and make time to speak to the teacher or director. 

5. Look for Gold Seal accredited providers

"Parents should look to see if the provider has a Gold Seal accredited, as these providers have been recognized as quality child care programs," a spokesperson for the DCF said. 

Florida lawmakers established the Gold Seal Quality Care program in 1996 to "acknowledge child care facilities and family day care homes that are accredited by recognized agencies and whose standard reflect quality in the level of care and supervision provided to children," according to the DCF's website. 

You can find out if a child care provider is Gold Seal accredited by searching online. Child care providers with this designation are marked in the program section of the search tool. 

Parents or guardians can file an online complaint with the DCF if they have concerns about their child care provider. To report abuse, neglect or exploitation of a child or vulnerable adult, call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-962-2873 or report it online

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