Take a close look at after-school care


August 29, 1993|By Niki Scott

Good neighborhood after-school care provides the stimulation, supervision and interesting activities of a formal after-school program, plus the individual attention, familiar environment and non-institutional atmosphere that children often prefer.

But not all neighborhood care is good -- and some is downright terrible -- and because neighborhood care givers are subject to fewer regulations and less scrutiny than private or publicly funded formal programs, parents must be especially vigilant when it comes to assessing this type of after-school care.

A neighborhood care giver should:

* Be eager to communicate freely with you, welcome your questions and encourage you to express your concerns about your child's needs, fears, likes and dislikes.

* Encourage you to visit any time and call as often as you want (within reason) to see how your child is doing.

* Make it clear that your child's safety is her top priority by covering electrical sockets, locking up toxic substances, putting knives and other sharp instruments out of reach, closing off dangerous stairways, and taking all other appropriate precautions.

* Provide interesting, varied and appropriate toys, activities and equipment. Her outside play area should be fenced and locked against intruders, and there should be firm rules about children using child-safety seats and seat belts when they ride in her car.

She should be:

* Both straightforward and forthcoming when you ask about her fees, extra charges, late-pickup charges, school vacation policies and schedules. When you request references, she should respond in a matter-of-fact, non-defensive manner.

* Discreet and professional in her relationships with parents. If she makes derogatory comments about the children now in her care -- or their parents -- watch out. This is the mark of an immature person.

* Willing to abide (within reason) by your wishes when it comes to punishment (never physical!), TV watching, snacks, how much time your child spends outside.

If she thinks it's a dandy idea for children to spend all afternoon watching television, and you want your child outside in the fresh air whenever possible, look for another care giver.

She also should:

* Make a commitment to give you at least one month's notice before changing her hours or prices, or before she either stops or changes the arrangements you've made with her.

* Screen everyone -- without exception -- who comes in contact with the children in her care, including temporary or part-time help, custodial or cleaning personnel and all visitors.

* Be licensed according to your state's requirements and stay strictly within the child-adult ratio that virtually all experts recommend for home-care facilities. These are: no less than one adult for every five children under the age of 2; one adult for every six children between 2 and 6 years of age; and one adult for every eight school-aged children.

* Be prepared for emergencies and have first-aid training of some kind and adequate first-aid supplies on hand. She should insist that parents provide complete medical information and the telephone numbers of several other adults besides themselves who can make emergency decisions if a parent is unavailable.

* Invite you to meet any children currently in her care. By observing these children, you'll be able to tell a great deal about whether this person and this environment are right.

Your own good intuition and instincts will let you know, and they always are the most accurate and reliable barometers when it comes to picking the right care -- and care givers -- for your children.

) Universal Press Syndicate

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