What questions should I typically ask if the topics don't come up? Also, what should I be looking for that might not otherwise be pointed out, or worse things they may hope as a novice parent I won't notice?
You should visit the day care. If you show up unannounced, you can see them 'in action'. Below are some general guidelines and a few references.
- does it look safe and clean?
- what toys are available?
- what activities are included?
- are there opportunities for both individual and group play?
- do they have snack time? What do they serve?
- what is the staff to child ratio?
- are the staff certified?
- what training / experience do the staff have?
- will they accommodate cloth diapers (if required)?
- will they accommodate any special needs that you / your child has?
- are children required to get vaccines?
- what are their rules on sick children? (do they have to stay home?)
- what is their philosophy on behavior modification?
- do other parent's recommend them?
- how long have they been in business?
- are they certified?
- have they been reported to the better business bureau?
- can you stop by any time?
In the UK there is a regulatory body called OFSTED that makes random inspections. The reports from those inspections are available to the public. They give a rough guide to how good the facility is, but you have to be aware that they are a snapshot from a single day. If a bad centre is having a good day (or a good centre is having a bad day) the report will be skewed.
We also have tight regulation for day care. Things like staffing ratios and maximum numbers and qualifications and staff vetting are all covered by law. The "style" of the place is also going to be driven by external factors. Most day care places will sign up to EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stages; a national government "statutory framework" for schools and day care.)
Price isn't much help when choosing either; partly because they're all very similar in cost, and partly because the English system has tax credits which can pay a large part of the cost.
In the UK most of them are private businesses. So you're left to have a look around and see which one has best decor, or which staff make a best first impression.
The short version: I would look for
- Staff ratios (controlled by law)
- activities (guided by law)
- quality of staff
- quality of buildings and outside activity areas (if available)
- quality of other facilities (sensory room; soft play room, etc)
My husband was director of a daycare. In the US, every state has licensing requirements and periodically do onsite inspections at every facility.
You can access the results of these inspections either through the daycare directly or through the licensing board. Information regarding inspection scores along with violations may be very revealing of the quality of the daycare.
Also, in GA and probably other states, the facility must report significant events to the state including injuries on site and the state keeps a record of parental complaints and investigates each one.