Most of our children won't be enrolling in the fancy camps or state-of-the-art day-care centers that are featured in many women's magazines around this time of the year.
Those who aren't cared for by relatives, older siblings -- or no one -- will be in the care of family day-care providers, a situation that often provides the best of all child-care worlds: stimulating and creative child-care programs in a non-institutional, loving, homelike setting.
But some family day-care represents the worst of all child-care worlds: unlicensed, unregulated, amateurish and uninspired care coupled with non-enlightened attitudes about the needs of young children that can result (more often than we like to think) in outright abuse.
The best way to protect our children is by asking the right questions as we interview prospective caregivers, taking the time to carefully check their backgrounds and references, and dropping by unexpectedly while our children are in their care.
Here are a dozen questions every parent should ask when interviewing a prospective care provider:
* Are you licensed by this state to care for children in your home? What other certificates, credentials, degrees and/or training make you qualified to care for young children?
* How long have you lived in this state? In this neighborhood? (If "less than three years," ask for at least one previous address).
* Will you give me the names, addresses and phone numbers of at least three parents whose children are currently in your care?
* Can you describe a typical day for the children in your care? What schedules do they follow? What kinds of activities do you offer?
* Do you mind if I give your Social Security and driver's license numbers to our local police department and this state's attorney general's office to confirm that you've never been convicted of a felony?
* Do I also have your permission to ask the attorney general's office if you've ever been arrested in this state for child abuse or negligence?
* Do you provide a play area for children that's separate from the rest of your house? What are your rules about naps, TV watching, meals and snacks, toys from home, etc.? Will my child play outside most of the day unless it's raining? Is there a safe, fenced-in, well-equipped outside play area, with some shade?
* Do you insist all children have recent physicals and proof of up-to-date vaccinations? Are they required to wash before meals and are toilet facilities adequate for the number of children and scaled to their size?
* What if my child gets sick while in your care? Is there a room where he can rest until someone picks him up? Do you have a physician on call?
* What are your discipline techniques? How do you handle tantrums, squabbles, disobedience, lying, etc.?
* Do you take the children on field trips -- visits to the fire station, an amusement park or zoo, or to the local swimming pool or library's story hour? What's your transportation? Is there a seat belt for each child -- and firm rules about behavior in the car?
* Finally, do you have backup help if you get sick?
) Universal Press Syndicate