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Daycare Detectives: Finding the Right Facility

April 14, 2014
Original Author: Elizabeth Daley

by Grant Barret San Mateo CA

It’s tough sending your child off to daycare, but it’s even harder if you haven’t done your homework.

Full records for any licensed daycare are available by simply calling the state Department of Social Services, according to Michael Weston, spokesman for the California Department of Social Services.

If parents choose to call, they will receive a call back with information on up to two providers of their choice, including incident reports, which may not be found by visiting state sponsored childcare referral agencies or the state’s website.

On the website, parents may determine which facilities are licensed. Weston also said providers are required by law to show parents current licenses and records for the last three years if asked.

Even after performing background checks and checking state licenses, Judy Kriege, program director of Bananas in Alameda County, a state sanctioned child care referral agency, recommends parents perform their own due diligence and inspect facilities before enrolling children.

Do the legwork

Kreige’s agency is one of many free and publicly funded resources for parents looking for information about childcare. There are agencies like Bananas across the state, and parents can use agencies nearby to find childcare close to them. Check with your county to find the contact information for your Resource and Referral Service.

Like other childcare referral agencies, Bananas has a database of all available licensed childcare facilities in its service area, and makes recommendations to parents based upon the specific needs of each family, but is not allowed to rank facilities based on program quality. For example, if a family is looking for full-day program within walking distance of their home or job, Bananas can pull up a list of eligible providers in the area, however workers cannot say which provider is preferred by parents or rank provider services.

Kriege said parents call, visit or e-mail her facility or any other state run referral service for a tailored list of providers, which is usually complied within 24 hours. Parents may also learn what to look for in a daycare in general from a referral agency like Bananas. However, once matches have been suggested, Kriege said it is up to parents to do additional legwork to insure the facility is right for their child.

Oakland mom Tamara Aparton said she used Bananas to obtain day care referrals for her 2-year-old daughter Lilah.

“Once I visited I didn’t have any concerns,” Aparton said of her current childcare provider. “They were pros — they’re in the state building, you have to enter a code to get past the metal doors, and it seemed clean. They let me drop in while the kids were there to take a tour, which I liked,” she added.

Aparton said she took her daughter Lilah with her to visit the facility and she interacted well with the care providers. However, Aparton made sure to do background research as well. In addition to working with the referral agency, she checked Savvy Source, Yelp and a community board called the Berkeley Parents Network for reviews.

“I definitely had some concerns about home daycares—how do you know they’re not just watching TV and eating lead paint all day, right?” Aparton joked.

Are frequent inspections enough?

But what really does go on? With recent inquiries into the state of California’s daycares, concern about the welfare of children is legitimate. Kriege said due to budget cuts, facilities must only be inspected once every five years by law, but that inspectors try to get out to facilities once every three years and “that’s still not enough.”

She explained that inspectors will investigate complaints immediately and mark them as “conclusive” or “inconclusive,” and take required actions, including closing the facility and notifying parents. However parents who really want to stay on top of what is going on at daycare should check in regularly with social services to see what if anything is being investigated.

ABCs of daycare

Michael Weston, spokesperson for the California Department of Social Services said his agency is responsible for ensuring childcare facilities comply with state law.

“You can’t have a pool that isn’t fenced in or bleach on the counters,” Weston said, “there are rules or regulations that you need to be aware of, but there is not an exam you have to take.”

Providers are also only allowed to enroll a certain number of children based on their space constraints, the type of facility they are operating and the number of staff employed. Facilities must also comply with fire and safety codes. Employees must pass background checks and at least one staff member must be trained in life saving methods including CPR.

Parents have the right to know if there are any people at the daycare facility who have been exempted from a criminal background check, Weston said. The facility must also post information regarding infractions, no matter how minor, in a visible place for parents to see, according to the Department of Social Services. A list of parent’s rights may also be found here.

Still, the process of becoming a daycare provider in California can take as little as two months, and once it is determined that the facility a provider is using is in compliance with the law, inspectors may not visit for years unless there is a complaint.

Weston said providers working in a family home are subject to fewer regulations, while larger facilities with staff are likely to face more requirements. He said parents should always ask to see a provider’s licensing documents and records, which facility owners are required to show.

Weston advised parents to look closely at the facility and the program to see that it meets expectations. “We don’t do anything regarding quality,” Weston said, “as far as the program itself, that is something that the parents choose, that’s the choice that you make.”