By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — One week after a five-month-old girl died at a Montgomery County daycare facility, parents are still reeling.

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The state has shut down the facility, citing more than a dozen violations.  Which begs the question: what can parents do to protect their babies?

“That could have been my daughter,” says Rashida Northington, whose one-year-old daughter, Teagan, attended the Wyndmoor Learning Center for more than three months.

When she read the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services order listing 20 violations, she says, in hindsight some of the violations were crystal clear.  But at the time, she tells KYW Newsradio, “I didn’t even know they were violations.”

“I don’t want parents to be afraid to put their children into child care — a high quality program can be really good for children,” notes Sharon Easterling, executive director of the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children.  Her group trains early-childhood educators and helps day care centers meet Keystone Stars standards.

“I think its a good idea for parents to be familiar with the rules and day care standards so they can make a more informed decision,” she adds.

She says the Keystone Stars program is particularly helpful since facilities with three or four stars comply with standards that are far higher than those required for licensing by the state.

The only problem is, the program is voluntary, and Easterling estimates that only half of the state’s daycares are enrolled.  But that could change, thanks to a recent “Race to the Top” grant.

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In the meantime, she says, parents must stay vigilant, using their eyes and ears to make sure a daycare is clean and organized.  Check staff credentials and attitudes, she advises, and know the sleep standards for young children and make sure the staff is enforcing them.

“Babies need to be on their back, in their crib, with nothing else around them,” she explains, noting that there is a conflict in the current regulation that allows parents to request that a blanket be placed in a bed.

Another piece of advice from Easterling: do a surprise visits to your child’s daycare.  “Providers should welcome you any time of the day,” she says.  “If they discourage drop-ins, it raises a red flag.”

For Northington, the baby’s death and the subsequent closure of the facility was a lesson learned.

“I thought, they must be good if I am getting referrals,” she says, noting that her daughter will no longer attend a daycare. “It definitely opened my eyes to things that I should be looking for.”


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