More than 60 percent of Georgia’s children are cared for outside the home for at least six hours a day, so the choice of proper care is vital for child development.
Stephanie Black, founding chairwoman of the governing board of the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students, emphasized the need for scrutiny of child care during a recent seminar for those involved in juvenile justice and child advocacy.
“That’s why the issue of quality child care is so important,” she said during the seminar, which was Webcast at the Government Center Auditorium in Evans.
Finding safe, quality and reliable child care can be stressful.
Rene Hopkins, a registered nurse and coordinator of Safe Kids Greater Augusta, led by the Children’s Hospital of Georgia, said parents should ask lots of questions of potential child care providers.
“Anything that is important to you, ask,” Hopkins said. “Don’t assume anything.”
Hopkins suggested that before interviewing with providers, ask to see a record of on-site injuries, medication, transportation and outdoor play safety policies, and proof of compliance with various safety guidelines. At-home child care providers should be able to provide similar information.
Look for patterns of injuries, particularly ones that aren’t being addressed and corrected.
An on-site interview is a must to evaluate a child care facility.
“Look at the environment,” Hopkins said. “You want to go in during the hours of operation, and go in with all of your senses working.”
Hopkins said “the sleep environment is critical” for children 18 months of age or younger. Each child should have his or her own sleeping space free of bumpers, pillows, stuffed animals and potential hazards.
Medications should be handled safely and kept away from children, and staff should have CPR training, Hopkins said.
The meal plans should include age-appropriate foods combined into well-balanced, healthy meals, Hopkins said, and children should be required to sit while eating.
A child care environment should be stimulating. The rooms should include age-appropriate toys, books, games and activities.
Appropriate stimulation and interaction is important in the first five years of life. Parents should look for staff trained in early childhood education to help prepare children socially and academically for school, Department of Early Care and Learning Commissioner Bobby Cagle said at the seminar.
“The early years are the learning years,” he said. “They learn more in those first five years than the rest of their lives combined. … Quality early learning experiences make a difference for children and their families.”
Hopkins said the final decision comes down to what the parent is comfortable with.
“Before you make your final decision, pop back unannounced,” she said. “Everybody puts their best foot forward when they know you’re coming.”