What can you do to satisfy yourself that the home day-care facility you're considering is a good one? Here are some suggestions provided by Fairfax County's Bonnie Arnold, who teaches a course on day-care operations:
* Look around the entire house and yard. Check for cleanliness and whether there is adequate space for the number of children who spend the day. If the home has not had a fire inspection, check for smoke detectors and fire extinguishers on each level and discuss evacuation plans with the day-care provider. Are there potential safety hazards? Has the house been "child-proofed?"
* Ask about the children's daily schedule. It should make for a varied and interesting day-care experience. There should be time for individual and group play, outdoor play, rest, snacks and meals. Ask to see snack and meal plans and whether your child can bring his own food.
* Talk with the day-care provider about her experience. What kind of training, if any, has she had? How does she handle discipline? What is her approach toward instructing and feeding young children? Does she have first-aid skills? Ask how she handles medical emergencies and what her policy is for accommodating sick children. Does she have a valid driver's license? Has her car been inspected recently? Does she have enough car seats for all the children? Ask whether the provider has had a recent medical checkup.
* Make sure there is a box or locker for your child's things. Your child should have room to keep an extra set of clothes plus any toys he may bring.
* Ask to see what play equipment is provided. Are toys, puzzles and books available? Are they appropriate for your child? Find out if there are special projects or trips scheduled for the children.
* Ask about the provider's business arrangements, including insurance coverage. What about a fee schedule? Many of the best home day-care centers run on a contract basis, with the provider and parents working out a contract covering everything from fees to discipline to emergency needs.
* Above all, visit the home at least twice during different times of the day. Watch how the day-care provider works with the children she takes in and her own children. Talk with the children about how they like the home and what they do there. Get the name of other parents who have children at the day-care home and find a time to talk with them privately.
Here is a summary of how the major jurisdictions regulate small day-care operations: Fairfax County does not regulate day-care operations in which fewer than six children are cared for. Alexandria does not regulate home day care for homes with fewer than five children.
Arlington requires anyone who cares for an unrelated child to register with the Arlington Child Care Office. Once the day-care provider has a home inspection, she is listed on the county referral service.
Both Fairfax County and Alexandria maintain referral lists of people who have passed the training programs.