Choosing Caregivers

When you leave your child in the care of other people—whether they’re babysitters; family members; childcare, school, or after-school staff; dating partners; or youth leaders—you need to know your child will be safe. But how?

No Substances

First of all, never leave your child in the care of someone who abuses alcohol, uses drugs, or is under the influence of either. Drugs and alcohol do not cause a person to molest children, but they can cause a person to lose self-control. In addition, people may be less careful about whom they allow near children if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol or seek these substances at any cost.


When choosing a babysitter, even if he or she is a member of your family:

  • Ask for names and phone numbers of families for whom they have babysat. Call these parents and find out what they think of the babysitter.
  • Meet them in person and interview them. Ask about how they discipline children. Ask “what if” questions to find out how they would cope with tricky situations.
  • Train them in the following areas:
    • Your family safety rules, including safety rules for private body parts
    • Discipline strategies you want them to use
    • Your guidelines for screen time, including TV viewing, computer use, and video-game playing. Be explicit about the programs or Internet sites your children can and cannot view and which games they can or cannot play. Identify how much time they are allowed on any device. Your rules about the babysitter’s friends coming over and about the babysitter using electronic devices such as a phone, laptop, or tablet while watching your children.
  • Check in on them by:
    • Making surprise visits
    • Asking your children about what happens when the babysitter is there and whether they like him or her. If they don’t like the babysitter, ask for reasons. Never leave your children with someone they don’t feel comfortable with.

Childcare or After-School Care

Check out the care center by:

  • Making a visit
  • Observing the group
  • Asking questions
  • Talking to other parents
  • Requesting and following up on references

Check credentials, policies, and other information:

  • Is the care center licensed? If not, why not? Licensing records are open to the public, so you can see a copy online or at the local records office.
  • What are the qualifications of the staff? Are background checks required? A background check ensures that a staff member has no criminal record, especially for sexual offenses against children.
  • Does the center have insurance?
  • Does the center have a code of conduct that describes specifically how staff should interact with children, including acceptable and non-acceptable verbal, physical, and electronic behaviors and communication?
  • Does the center have a safe environment policy that describes rules for visibility in the building, who supervises children and how they do it, and how access to the building is monitored?
  • Is the staff trained on how to recognize and report signs of abuse? If not, recommend the Second Step Child Protection Unit.
  • Has any parent ever filed a complaint? If so, why, and how did the center respond to it?

Check out the physical space:

  • Is it clean? Are there enough bathrooms? Are there adult-only bathrooms?
  • Is it safe? Is the playground open to the public, or is it a secure area?

Check out the staff:

  • Are they warm and nurturing? How do they discipline the children?
  • What is their training? Do they know about child development?
  • What is the adult-child ratio?
  • How are staff supervised?

Ask about activities and routines:

  • How do staff handle diapering and toilet needs of young children?
  • What do the children do all day?

Once you choose a program, monitor by:

  • Volunteering
  • Going on field trips
  • Making surprise visits
  • Talking to your children

Guidelines for Dating

If you are a single parent, you might be dating. Dating brings unfamiliar adults into your home.

  • Let your new friend know your family safety rules, especially about private body parts. Tell him or her that your children have been taught to tell if any of these rules are broken.
  • Don’t leave your children alone with a new friend until you are sure you know him or her well enough.
  • Ask your children if they like the new person and why or why not.
  • Watch your children’s reactions for clues to how they feel.
  • Make surprise visits when you have left them alone.