Choosing the Right Childcare: Understanding State Licensing Reports

April 22, 2016 by Kayla Olson

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Sadly, I continue to hear stories about childcare providers abusing or neglecting children all the time. Parents searching for childcare shouldn’t have to worry about their children being hurt. I worked for many years in the childcare industry and have helped my friends investigate childcare centers they were considering for their children. Luckily, here in Wisconsin, all state inspection and licensing reports are available online. While this provides parents with great information, you may not know how to distinguish between licensing violations that are concerning and those that aren’t.

Serious Issues

These are serious violations:

  • Clearly, any violation for abuse or neglect is a red flag.
  • Any violation for which the state took adverse action against the center, such as a fine or license suspension, is serious.
  • Watch for write-ups for a child being left alone for an extended period of time or for a child wandering away from the facility.
  • Any violations for physical punishment would be very concerning for me. This tells me teachers are overwhelmed or are not trained appropriately for handling challenging behaviors.
  • Violations for child-on-child abuse are also a red flag since this only happens when children are not supervised adequately.
  • I would also be very concerned about safe sleep violations, such as a violation for letting a child sleep with a fluffy blanket or in a car seat. This can lead to serious injury or death.

Somewhat Concerning

Violations about child health and safety are concerning. Any violations where a provider left something, like bleach or cleaning products, within reach of children I’d investigate further by talking to an administrator. Sometimes these violations are a big deal. Any violations for unsafe food preparation would also warrant additional investigation.

Playground hazards can be a big problem. Providers can be written up for not having enough ground cover which is really important to keep kids safe. Also concerning would be any violation for lack of staff training. At a minimum, staff are usually required to be CPR certified, and many states require annual continuing education. I’d want my child’s teachers to have plenty of training.

Not a Big Deal

Paperwork violations are not usually a big deal and are sometimes unavoidable. Providers are required to do a lot of paperwork and sometimes they just can’t find what they need when the inspector is there. While this wouldn’t usually worry me, a large number of paperwork violations may be a sign of an underlying organizational problem.

Sometimes providers receive violations for not having enough of a certain type of toy, like music toys or blocks. They may also receive a violation if they change room configurations without notifying the state. As long as the rooms are big enough and have an adequate number of toys, these wouldn’t worry me.

State inspection reports are just one part of evaluating a childcare center.

Other Tips for Picking a High-Quality Provider

  • Visit! Visit the center or home several times. Drop in at different times of day. Any quality provider should encourage parents to drop by whenever they want.
  • Pay attention to how the center or home sounds when you visit. Are babies crying constantly? Are teachers raising their voices?
  • Ask for references. Other parents will have a great perspective on what the provider is like.
  • If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

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