Can This Daycare Situation Be Saved?
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!
GUT GUT GUT GUT GUT.
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: ThinkstockPublished March 13, 2012. Last updated October 29, 2017.