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When deciding on a provider that's right for your children, take into account the quality of care, Smith says. "The threshold for getting into [childcare] is very low," she says. "What we've seen over the last several years is that the people with a degree in the field going down, at the same as the number of people who are coming in with a high school education or less are going up."

This means parents have a strict responsibility to make sure their little one is paired up with the right type of childcare and with a high-quality caregiver. "Frequently, parents don't feel very comfortable ... going into somebody's home and asking for a background check," Smith says. It's important to get over that awkwardness immediately, she says. "We need for parents to know, eyes wide open, what they're dealing with and to not be shy about asking the questions."

Many parents believe childcare providers are being regulated or they are licensed, but Smith says that's not the case. "A lot of childcare in this country falls outside of licensing," she says. "When you start talking about the individual types of childcare, it's very important for parents to know what's going on in their particular state."

Some questions you might want to ask when you first meet the childcare provider:

  • Do you have a license?
  • Have you had an inspection?
  • Have you had a background check? What does it consist of?
Also, parents have to make sure the childcare worker(s) have had necessary background checks. For example, not all states check sex offender registries for childcare workers. "It's really sad because those checks are easy and they're free," she says. "Anyone can check those records. In some cases, where states are doing bigger, broader background checks, [parents] assume sex offender registries are checked as a part of, say, an FBI fingerprint check. That's not necessarily the case, because child sexual abuse is not necessarily a federal offense."

Is your childcare provider a good match?

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