(WBRC) - Alabama is one of seven states that allows religious child care centers to operate without license. A bill that would have ended the religious exemption for such facilities failed to pass the legislature. That means close to half of child care centers in Alabama remain uninspected by state officials for basic health and safety standards.
If you are a parent looking for childcare, we talked to Jeanetta Green, Director of the Child Care Services Division with Alabama's Department of Human Resources (DHR). Green said the number one thing parents should do is visit a potential child care center by appointment and unannounced.
"Start early if you're looking, view more than one place don't just view once, make several visits," said Green.
Alabama's DHR has a parent's guide to choosing child care on its website that recommends asking questions when you visit a daycare center. You should inquire about the qualifications and training for employees, lesson plans and daily schedules for children and Green said every child care facility, licensed and unlicensed, should be able to provide parents with a written copy of policies and procedures. If they can't, consider that a red flag. The list should include procedures on dropping off and picking up children, rates and payment schedules and the center's procedures in case of an emergency.
"If they do not have those written policies then when things happen, the parent has nothing to go back to to say, 'hey this is how you said that we would operate in this situation,'" said Green.
Parents should also be aware of the ratio of employees to children at a child care center. DHR has minimum standards that a center should meet. Those say for babies up to 18-months-old, there should be one staff member for every five children. For children aged 18-months to 2 and 1/2 years, there should be one staff member for every seven children and for children between 2 and 1/2 and 4-years-old there should be one staff member for every 11 children.
"If you feel uncomfortable about the number of children that are in a room or with one staff person, then you're probably right, that there's probably something wrong with that," said Green.
Read more about DHR's minimum standards for daycare centers here.
Green said the bottom line, parents should give their child care decision a lot of thought and consideration. If you suspect health or safety violations at a child care center, you can report it to DHR by calling 1-866-528-1694.