The decision to go back to work and place a child in another’s care can be difficult and heart-wrenching. Every parent wants his or her child to be in a safe and loving environment. For many parents, the best fit seems to be in a private home. Since this option most closely mimics a family situation, it makes sense. However, the laws in Pennsylvania are quite clear concerning private babysitters or in-home providers, and it is important for a parent to be aware of these laws intended to keep children safe.
How many children are in the babysitter’s care?
In Pennsylvania, the number of children a caregiver can watch without being certified by the Department of Public Welfare is three. This does not include the caregiver’s own children. This means if a babysitter is watching four children in her home, and one of them is her own, he or she is within the law. If this same babysitter is watching those children and they are all unrelated, and the babysitter is not certified, he or she is breaking the law. Once a babysitter becomes certified as an in-home day care provider, the number of children he or she can watch varies dependent on the children’s ages, but is either five or six. (PA Code Title 55, Chapter 3290.3,.52)
As a former day care director, potential new parents would come to me and share their stories of what happened in unregulated private babysitter’s homes. One parent told me how she was informed that the babysitter was watching about six children. However, when the parent showed up early to pick up her child, there were over 10 children present in the home! At this time, the parent did not feel her child was receiving adequate care and pulled her child from that provider’s care.
Can a parent drop in at any time?
As the above illustration shows, it is very important that a parent be permitted to drop by at any time to visit their child. Unscheduled drop-ins will ensure that what a parent is told will be happening during the day actually is. If a provider asks the parent to call first, or worse, requests that a parent does not stop by at all during the day, view this as a red flag. In regulated family day cares, unscheduled drop-ins are required by the law (Pa Code Title 55, Chapter 3290.20), with the only exception being court-ordered such as a restraining order.
Another story a parent described during an interview began after another early pickup. The parent showed up about 3pm and witnessed lunch just then being served. This greatly upset the parent since it was not the first time she had witnessed such a late lunch, and believed that lunch should be served about noon.
What is the daily schedule?
Parents should be aware of the provider’s daily schedule, so there are no questions what is planned during the day. In regulated family daycare homes, this is a requirement and should be posted in an area seen by parents (PA Code Title 55, Chapter 3290.111).
One parent described a story involving a toddler, a couch, and full-length movies. According to the parent, she would drop off her child at about 7am and pick her up about 4pm. Everything was fine and the parent seemed happy with the care provided, until the toddler began to talk more. One time the child proudly announced to her mother that she stayed on the couch the whole time today and did not get time out. This prompted the mother to ask more questions. It turned out that the babysitter wanted the toddler to remain quiet while her children were still asleep. In order to achieve this, she required the toddler to sit on the couch and watch a full length movie every morning. If she got off the couch, the toddler received a time out. The parent was not pleased that her child was required to sit and watch this much television daily.
What takes place in the home?
Some people smoke and some people have pets. Some parents do not want their child exposed to these items. Be sure to ask a provider if he or she smokes while children are in care, and what pets will be in the home. For state-regulated family day care homes, smoking is not permitted indoors or outdoors in child care spaces or while food is being prepared. Cigarette butts and ashes are also prohibited in the same areas (PA Code Title 55, Chapter 3290.66). Pets are also permitted as long as they have been shown to be friendly to children, have current rabies shots (cats and dogs only, and only have contact with children under adult supervision( PA Code Title 55, Chapter 3290.117).
Have there been complaints against the provider?
A complaint against a certified home daycare can be filed by a parent or concerned citizen and investigated by local regional child development offices. If the complaint is found to be true, it becomes part of the state’s record on that daycare. To find out about these verified complaints, as well as certification history and current certification, a parent can call one of the four regional child development offices in Pennsylvania. To find your local office visit http://www.dpw.state.pa.us/PartnersProviders/ChildCareEarlyEd/ and select “regional childcare offices” from the left menu. Understanding past complaints may help a parent to select between the provider best qualified to care for his or her children.
Recently there was a tragic case in a family day care home in central Pennsylvania. According to reports, the 1-year-old was dropped off by the parent and was then placed in a playpen by a day care worker since he was upset. In an effort to contain the child a plywood board was placed over the child’s playpen, and additional material placed on top to weigh it down. Without adult observation, the child managed to push the board enough that it fell on top of him asphyxiating him. The child died (Lewistown Sentinel, July 10, 2008).
No parent should have to experience what happened to the above family. A parent should feel safe and be confident with where their child is placed for care. Never feel like you are asking too many questions.