When parents search for a caregiver, they can face a confusing landscape in Virginia.
There are large centers, licensed and governed by rules covering everything from square footage per child to credentials for employees. There are also licensed family homes, with smaller numbers of children. And then there are unregulated homes, which can operate legally as long as the caregivers watch no more than five children not related to them. The unregulated face no inspections, background checks or regulations.
For parents, here are several questions to ask at home day cares. These are tailored to Virginia but could serve as general guidelines.
1. Do you have a license to care for children? Caregivers should readily provide their state-issued “family day home” license number. The Virginia Department of Social Services Web site allows you to verify the license and to search for a provider’s inspection reports. You can also search by name or by Zip code. Unlicensed homes are essentially off the grid.
2. If you don’t have a license, why not? There are a few exemptions from licensing in Virginia, which adds to the confusion. Facilities with religious affiliations are exempt but must comply with some standards, such as background checks. Unregulated homes that have five or fewer children can voluntarily register with the state, which requires a background check, site visit and pledge to follow the licensing rules.
3. How many children do you care for, and what are their ages? There’s a big difference between caring for four infants and caring for four 5-year-olds. Infants require more attention. Virginia has a point system for the number of children a licensed caregiver can watch in a home, based on their ages. Children who are up to 15 months old count as four points, 16 to 23 months counts as three points, and so forth. An individual caregiver cannot exceed 16 points.
4. When is the last time you were trained in CPR? Licensed providers are required to have CPR credentials issued within the past two years. Ask for a certificate that proves completion.
5. How do you put infants down for a nap? All infants should be placed on their backs to sleep, unless a doctor instructs otherwise. In the 1990s, federal officials launched a public health campaign, called “Back to Sleep,” to promote safe sleeping. The campaign, now called “Safe to Sleep,” has been lauded for helping reduce sleep deaths.
6. What kind of sleeping environment do you provide for infants? Regulations for licensed providers prohibit placing loose bedding or pillows around infants. If a caregiver uses a blanket, it must be thin, be tucked around the end of the crib mattress and not come past the infant’s chest.
7. Do you have a land-line phone? In emergencies, having a land line can make a big difference. It allows 911 dispatchers to immediately locate the address. Licensed caregivers in Virginia are required to have a land line.
8. Have you had a background check? You can ask unregulated providers to pay for their own background checks through the Virginia State Police and authorize a name search through the Virginia Child Abuse and Neglect Central Registry. “You can go into any day care, whether it is licensed or not, and ask for a background investigation,” said Lynne Williams, the director of licensing for the state Department of Social Services. “If they don’t produce that, don’t place your child there.”
9. Who else is in the home? Request the names of all adults who live or work in the home. Ask about their background checks and credentials. Licensed day cares prohibit felons from living or working in the home. Unlicensed providers face no such rules.
For more information, call Child Care Aware of Virginia at 1-866-KIDS-TLC or visit www.va.childcareaware.org.