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Can This Daycare Situation Be Saved?

By Amalah

Hi Amy!

Love your blog and advice column and I am hoping you can send a little wisdom my way regarding a daycare situation.

My daughter, who is 1.5, spends three days a week in a small home daycare in our neighborhood. She’s been there since just after she turned one and loves it. The woman who runs it has being doing so for over twenty years and is very caring and good with the little ones. I, however, have some issues and wonder how much I should listen to my gut.

Food. When I arrived the other day to pick my daughter up, she was snacking on popcorn. I thought this was a well-known major choking hazard for toddlers, and was surprised that the provider allowed it without talking to us first. We just told her, “No popcorn” and it wasn’t a big deal, but it makes me wonder what other food safety rules I thought were a given (no whole grapes, etc.) are being broken.

Ratios. Our provider is licensed for a maximum of six kids at any one time and no more than two babies under 18 months old. Recently (as in this week) our caregiver took on a seventh child, a 12-week-old infant. So, that’s one person with seven kids, three of whom are infants under the age limit. We asked her about this, and she says she’s planning to have an assistant on the busy days (her boyfriend–he’s fine, background checked and my daughter seems to like him). According to her, she’ll only have six at most…but the day I picked my daughter up I absolutely counted seven. As far as I know, she has no plans to get re-licensed to accommodate more children or an assistant.

It was a little weird picking my daughter up the other day after having these conversations (she did thank us for telling her about our concerns, but I’m sure it felt accusatory), but overall things seem okay. We’re switching our daughter’s schedule to be there on one of the less busy days and our provider has always been very flexible, which is a rare and precious thing for daycare.

However, I’m torn–on the one hand, she has an extra set of hands to help during the day, which assuages some of my fears that my daughter or another child will get seriously hurt because there aren’t enough adult eyes to go around. And I understand why she’s taken on another kid–it’s very difficult to get the right mix of ages and schedules AND make a decent living. And my daughter is definitely quite happy there. However, the side of my brain that is all about Follow The Rules is worried because the ratio laws are there for a reason and she’s definitely breaking them.

My husband seems completely reassured by her answers, although he says if I truly feel our daughter is unsafe, then we should look into alternate care. Which, as I’m sure you know, is no small hassle.

So what should I do? Ignore these nagging feelings? Pull my daughter out? Continue to pull my own hair out? Help!



Your gut. Listen to it. Trust it. Biiiig believer in The Mommy Gut over here. Not to mention that everything in your letter is reading like a screaming CAPITAL LETTER red flag to me.

The popcorn thing, okay. That one I could chalk up to one of those whoopsie moments that can happen in a mixed-age setting (older kids bring/request it, little ones help themselves) or the fact that not everybody gets the same information and advice regarding safe foods and choking hazards. And it changes! My usually-super-careful MIL had no idea that raisins were a choking hazard and would let two-year-old Ezra toddle around with a box. At the time, raisins were on the no-no-super-bad-choking list for children under four, but the AAP has since removed them. So…okay! I still insist that Ezra eat them while seated and supervised because that’s been hard-wired into my brain, while people going off the latest and greatest feeding advice would probably have no such residual twitchiness.

Popcorn, however, remains on the list as a no-no for children under four. So that’s still certainly concerning enough to say, hmm, one strike, on notice, I better be a bit more careful/aware/nosy about what goes on the snack menu there from now on.

But it’s the second concern that’s the biggie. And hoo boy, is that a biggie. Two strikes. Maybe even an infield grounder into a double play at second base. Someone with 20 years of experience running a home day care should know better. She should know that the consequences for ignoring the ratio laws and her license restrictions are severe for her, and the risks of taking on too many children can be positively DIRE for her charges and their families. Even if it’s just once or twice or occasionally-as-needed-because-she’s-so-“flexible.”

Other than the day you mentioned counting all seven children, have you witnessed continued/additional infractions when all seven children are present (boyfriend or no)? Obviously, if what she says is true and she is really truly ensuring that there are no more than two babies and six children total present at any time, that’s one thing. (Depending on the licensing laws in your state, of course. I tried looking up a few random states but whooooosh, things got hairy and complicated and painfully specific really quickly.) If she isn’t being truthful, or thinks having her boyfriend there makes it okay for her to color outside of the licensing lines, that’s another. As in, that’s a daycare provider who just lost my trust. And when choosing a daycare, two of the BIGGEST non-negotiables a parent needs are 1) a center that is licensed and operating legally and above board, and 2) a center that is run by someone you trust. As in, you trust them with the very life and well-being of your child.

Sure, the search and decision-making process is difficult. It’s a complete and utter pain in the ass, frankly. Touring center after center while negotiating waitlists and outrageous fees and rigid schedules and rush-hour traffic — bleh. I know, I really do. And I know we all can’t live our lives in paralyzing fear of all those horror stories we’ve seen about unlicensed or just plain unlucky daycare situations turned tragic. But if your gut is telling that something is amiss here, something no longer lets you feel 100% comfortable and safe leaving your daughter with this woman, then I highly encourage you to listen to it. Even if your brain is telling you that you’re overreacting and trying to logic its way out of making a difficult and inconvenient decision, I really believe the Mommy Gut knows better.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • AlexMMR

    March 13, 2012 at 3:35 am

    My concern would be the boyfriend.  A boyfriend is usually pretty new in a persons life and often temporary.  There are no details here about the background check that this person went through so I’m not sure what to make of that.  

    Also, unless he’s officially an employee, his behavior is under no ones jurisdiction and he isn’t being overseen by any kind of governing agency.  He’s simply some random guy that your daycare provider is allowing to interact with and care for the children.  There’s nothing holding him accountable to any rules, or to even being a good guy.

    Honestly, how many boyfriends are willing to take on the responsibility of 6-7 random children?  He might be willing to be the adult in the room for a few minutes, but actual responsibility?  I doubt it.

  • Annie

    March 13, 2012 at 7:49 am

    I’ve never worked in a home-based daycare, but in college I worked in several centers. From my personal experience, those ratios required at our center wound up being a threshold. At or under the ratio, I felt like I was able to care for the children in a preventative way. When a couple extra kids were slipped into the room because parents were late, or we were waiting for a substitute teacher, my role as a caregiver tipped from preventative to reactive. I definitely sensed that tip, and I didn’t like it. Just my personal opinion and experience, but I think those ratios are in place for a reason.

  • Pghtebbie

    March 13, 2012 at 9:25 am

    My mommy radar was alarming at my daycare too, but I let the all these little things go…until one of them became a BIG thing. Inexcusable,”pack up their stuff now” big. I too felt funny bc we were part time, they were very accommodating, it was the right price,etc. Its NOT worth it. Find something else, you will not regret it. I also wrote a letter to the state dept of Welfare. The situations they are putting these kids in is not safe and needs to be addressed.

    2 months after I yanked them? Daycare owner was on the news for having her car stolen WITH HER KID IN IT while she was in the house. I made the right decision.

  • Lana

    March 13, 2012 at 9:56 am

    Annie’s perspective is so helpful and, as a parent of a child in daycare, I definitely notice a change in the room even when the numbers go from under-ratio to just at the ratio.
    I think in daycare world, there are some things you have to let go because you aren’t in total control. There are other things that are not things that can or should be fudged, and ratios are one of them.

  • Stephanie

    March 13, 2012 at 10:19 am

    I know it’s not the same daycare that we send our daughter too, but it’s so eerily familiar. We send our daughter to an in-home daycare, and I noticed a while ago that she’s definitely breaking the ratio rules. In CA, if you have 6 kids, you can’t have more than three under two. She generally has 4 and sometimes 5 under 2 (my daughter will be 3 in June). And some days she has more than 6 kids! This has been nagging at me, but what really got me was when I found a listing she’d posted on craigslist. She has no business advertising for spots when she’s already overbooked. Blerg. Really time to find a new daycare. Thanks for giving me the motivation I need.

  • dawn k.

    March 13, 2012 at 11:15 am

    Firstly, I do agree with Amy that you should TRUST your mommy gut. That is the number one piece of advice.

    That being said, I’m a bit more hesitant to jump on the OMG she’s not following all the rules to the T, therefore she must be up to something. Yes, constantly pushing the ratio limit is not good, but in many states for in-home daycare they are VERY conservative numbers. My mom ran an in home day care for 18 years, and some rules are beyond ridiculous. If children play in a wading pool, it could be no more than an inch of water, and it must be emptied daily. She couldn’t even technically throw a tarp over it to save it for the next day. The rule also states that hand towels in the bathroom must be disposable, or one for each child. How many of us follow that same rule in our house? Even if she washed the one singular hand towel daily, she would be out of compliance. Did you know that the regulation for space between banisters is more stringent that building guidelines? My mom had to buy a piece of plexiglass for a stair case. Again, ratio rules are a bit more important than clean/dirty towels, but I would encourage you to sit down and have an honest, heart-to-heart discussion about the rules, which ones she meets, and which ones she willfully violates (they all have some). If you can get a better grasp (maybe it was a situation like my mom sometimes faced, she went over by a kid or two because it was after-school care for maybe an hour and a half and she had the infant/toddler sibling) on they why, maybe that would help you make a decision.

    Again, as Amy said, each state varies in their regs. I know my mom was able to have 3 kids up to 18 months, 3 from 18mo-5 years, and then 2 from age 5-11 and still be within the requirements. Good luck!

    • Carolina

      March 14, 2012 at 1:21 pm

      I have to say all of those regs sound pretty reasonable to me, and I wouldn’t use a day care provider who thought it was fine to flout them. Wading pools with toddlers = bodily fluids. That needs to be thrown out daily (and the pool probably needs to be sanitized with bleach regularly). Same with the disposible towels — if you are going to have multiple germy kids using them, yes, there should be fresh clean towels available. Would you go into a public restroom and use the towel others had used? I also think the space between the banisters is a hazard. In older homes, they become a prime place to get a head stuck. So, I can’t really accept this “ooh, poor daycare providers are drowning in stupid regulations” line.

    • Jenny

      March 17, 2012 at 9:26 am

      I 100% COMPLETELY agree with Carolina. The regs you mention are COMPLETELY appropriate for a prvider caring for small children. No sympathy from me. AT ALL.

  • Brooke

    March 13, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Always trust your gut.

    Ratios are a flag to me because we had a terrible daycare center, and they didn’t seem to care about ratios. We’ve since had two fabulous daycare centers (we moved), and they are always counting and checking to make sure they are within ratio. It’s such an obvious flag, that if they ignore that, I’d be concerned what else they are ignoring that you aren’t seeing.

    But more than any one thing, trust your gut.

  • Alison

    March 13, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    Oh, YES to the Mommy Instincts. Even if nothing ever happened while your daughter was there, will you ever truly be able to relax about sending her there again? I’d say it’s better to have as stress-free a daycare experience as possible, rather than worry about offending.

    @AlexMMR: Excellent point about the boyfriend. Simply because he’s been background checked DOESN’T mean that he’s under any regulatory authority.

    @Dawn: I have to say that I agree with the state’s rules–having multiple kids in one wading pool exponentially increases the chances of fecal or urinary comtamination. It should be changed daily. And for the hand towel, well…the daycare is a public place for all intents and purposes. When you use a public restroom, do you want to use the same towel as the people before you? Would you want your child to? I know that’s off topic, but I thought it was a point that warranted being made.

    Good luck making your decision, Liz! May you be comfortable, no matter what you decide. Best of luck!

  • liz

    March 13, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    Listen to your gut AND your brain.

    Since it’s not an emergency right this minute, you have time to start looking around for a new situation, and get on waiting lists.

    Meanwhile, my state (VA) has an online database where you can check on the last inspection report. If yours does too, please check it and call the licensing board to ask when the last inspection was made. Tell them what you’ve seen and ask if they could do another inspection soon? You have noticed two things, there may be other violations that you don’t know about.

    And drop in earlier than usual when you can.

  • Meg

    March 13, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    The consequences of not trusting your gut, if something happens, would be far more troublesome than the inconvenience of finding a new day care. 

  • Hillary

    March 13, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    Just wanted to point out that to me the biggest red flag is the fact that you confronted your daycare provider about violating state rules and she gave you an answer that hasn’t held true. And now you feel uncomfortable conversing with the provider – that is a terrible situation to be in, it is like you’re held hostage by someone you pay to care for your kid and keep your kid safe. If you can’t talk to this person and explain your feelings and what you want out of your child’s daycare experience, they really don’t deserve your business.

    • Natalie

      March 16, 2012 at 7:53 am

      I think this is the most important. You said when she spoke with you it felt accusatory…I get that it is hard to run a home based business and that when you are dealing with people’s children that probably takes the anxiety up a few notches BUT if you don’t want that hassle and can’t understand why parents would have concerns over something they see as an issue then you should not be in the business of providing day care out of your home. Period. If you had been on the phone with a customer service agent and she had been snippy or taken a tone with you etc etc and it felt accusatory I bet you would have walked away thinking I will never do business with this company again; there is no difference here. You have been given poor customer service, except the stakes are much much higher.

  • Jenn

    March 13, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    I agree with the above posters – trust your gut.  Especially in a home-based daycare.  It’s true that home-based care has advantages over centers, but the biggest disadvantage is that one person can only do so much.  If one child is demanding more time, or is sick, the rest of the kids get less attention because there’s no backup like in a center.   There’s no manager checking to make sure rules are followed, and at least in my state, there’s almost no checking on conditions by the licensing agencies.  If your provider is following older child safety rules – like letting babies sleep on their stomachs, or having lots of loose blankets in the cribs, or feeding nuts and popcorn to young children – there’s no one to call them on it and pay attention to things like that, unless a parent happens to see.

    That doesn’t mean that home-based care is bad, just that trusting your gut becomes even more important because there’s no one else to look after your child if the caregiver is overwhelmed.  (And I don’t consider an unlicensed boyfriend to be a sufficient backup, if anything, I would consider that another red flag).  Taking care of 3 infants and four toddlers is a hell of a lot of work for one person.  

  • AmyRenee

    March 13, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    I think Mommy gut suggests that you at least start with making phone calls and getting yourself on waiting lists for other places. If your provider is willing to risk her licensure on ratios, what other shortcuts is she taking? And what would you do if her license got revoked? I don’t know that this is a “pull her out this instant” type of situation, but it’s definitely a “time to re-evaluate and look into other options” situation, IMHO. You may wind up paying a little more or losing some flexibility, but ask yourself whether it’s worth it for piece of mind. Personally, my kids go to a well run childcare center that we LOVE, and after my experiences there I would not hesitate to recommend it over home-based childcare, unless the care provider was a close friend that you felt extremely comfortable with, IMO.

  • Elizabeth

    March 14, 2012 at 9:21 am

    Trust your gut. You don’t feel comfortable with the care provider, it sounds like she is making choices for her personal convenience (boyfriend help vs. hiring qualified outside help), and she is breaking strict state laws.

    On even a good day, breaking these ratio rules impacts your child in that she receives less personal care and attention.

    On the mommy gut train, I recommend picking up “Protecting the Gift,” which is all about educating yourself to recognize not great situations and prevent them from becoming something bigger.

  • Katie

    March 15, 2012 at 8:22 am

    I agree with everything Amy said. For me, the ratio thing would be an absolute dealbreaker, and not just because she is breaking a “rule,” but because that rule is designed to ensure that your child is properly supervised and cared for. It is not like many other rules and regulations governing home daycares which might be viewed as a bit nitpicky. It is the key rule.

    I can tell you that 6 kids to one caregiver, even if only 2 of those kids are under 18 months, seems like a LOT. My daycare center has a 2-1 ration in the infant room and 2.5 -1 ration in the toddler rooms. A 12 week old baby being added to the mix seems like insanity. At 3 months, babies eat and cry a lot and need a lot of hands on attention.

    Like some of the PPs said, I would start looking around now.


  • Liz

    March 15, 2012 at 11:31 am

    Original question-asker here–thanks Amy (and everyone else!) for your thoughts on this issue. Elizabeth, I’ll definitely look into the book recommendation.

    We’ve decided to go ahead and begin looking for new daycare. I realized I’ve been explaining away a lot of little stuff that bothered me because I didn’t want to be an overbearing parent, but I think these latest incidents helped me understand that the daycare just isn’t a good fit for us and our expectations.

    Wish us luck!

  • AmyRenee

    March 15, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    given that your daughter is no longer an infant, you may want to consider places that offer preschool as well as daycare, that way you won’t be out touring new places AGAIN 1.5-2 years from now. Just a thought.

  • Lindsey

    March 16, 2012 at 11:58 am

    First rule of childcare, as someone whose family business was a preschool, is that ratios aren’t a game. Quality programs jump through hoops daily to make sure that not only is the entire school is in compliance but so are individual classrooms. Maybe this person feels she can play fast and loose with the rules because she’s a one-man show at this point and working in her own home, but professionals don’t willfully disregard their licensing requirements because it’s about safety. Having mixed ages in one setting makes it doubly important she complies and should have hired help before she took on another child.

    Secondly, my grandmother won’t give popcorn to my toddler and neither will my mother. Since she has kids who shouldn’t be eating it, it should not be available to those who can. AGAIN, something that should be obvious to her if she’s been running a program for so long.

    I’d find something else. There are lots of great home daycare providers and I understand not wanting to uproot your child, but if you caught these two infractions, I’m willing to bet there are more that you don’t see.

  • Stacy

    March 19, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    We’ve been with our current in-home daycare provider since October and I’ve never felt really comfortable with our ‘choice.’ And I say ‘choice’ because there weren’t that many ‘choices’ out there at the time. Last week I stayed home with our 1-year old since he was running a fever and sent my 4-year old to daycare. When I picked up my 4-yo, there were 4 other babies there which is over her limit of two under the age of two. She does not have full-time help. When my husband and I questioned her about the number of kids, we found a letter in my son’s backpack the next day giving us our two week notice. So as of Monday I do not have care for my kids. We’ve started interviewing and calling centers and other in-home providers and I cannot find an under-two spot. I have no idea what I am going to do once I burn through my PTO.

  • Jolene

    March 21, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    The “boyfriend” part is what squicked me out! Trust your gut Momma. There is NO such thing as too judgemental when it comes to the safety of your baby. Good LUCK!

  • Ashley

    March 23, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    Briefly, I worked for a daycare, and let me tell you- the things I saw were HORRIBLE! I hate to quite because I was too new of an employee to make any changes and I couldn’t stand for the things that went on. Kids were being forced to eat off of the floor, teacher spoke harshly to the children…And none of the parents suspected a thing! I think it is so important to observe your daycare/daycare provider and if you see things that aren’t right that most likely means that a ton more of that and similar stuff is going on behind your back. If she is laxed about safety prcedures and guidlines while you are there, it scares me to think of what is happening when you aren’t there. Trust your gut on this one.

  • Emily

    March 24, 2012 at 12:55 am

    I’d go with your gut..
    but… no popcorn until 4? really? wow.. my DD had it at.. 15 months? No raisins? She gets those all the time. No whole grapes? Another one she has been eating for awhile now. So, I’m not really addressing your fears.. just wow’d a little… I do realize that in a group situation you’d want to decrease choking hazards and grapes – I can totally see wanting them halved. But popcorn? Really? Either way.. trust your gut.. if you need more reason to, read ‘Protecting the Gift’ which will teach you when to trust your gut and how to keep your child safe.

  • brie

    April 1, 2012 at 12:06 am

    Invest in the book GIFT OF FEAR (on amazon). Your gut is probably sending off several warning bells for things you might not even be aware of.

    I stupidly put my daughter in a daycare that made me uncomfortable, and I couldn’t pinpoint why. It was all these tlittle hings and even though I pulled her out, I’m haunted that for 2 weeks, I kept her there and HAVE NO CLUE WHAT WENT ON. That was 5 years ago. I’m glad it didn’t take me long to listen to my gut, but I regret that I didn’t listen to immediately.

  • Andrea

    April 11, 2015 at 10:21 pm

    My grandkids daycare owner yelled at my grandson because he used his cell phone to call me because her daughter,  once again, had my granddaughter in tears.  The owner stated ‘kids will be kids’ -YEARS this has happened.  Oh yes, the owner told me ‘it’s none of my business what happens with my gkids at her daycare’.  Unfreakinreal~Apple sure didn’t fall far from the tree.