Helping parents find the right child care

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Jonah Beleckis
Sunday, March 19, 2017

JANESVILLE--In Autimn Painter's search for a daycare, nothing was more important to her than trust.

She eventually found a spot where she trusted the staff. She takes her four kids to the Community Kids Learning Center in Janesville, a spot she said she and her kids love.

She said the employees don't mind that she might call five times in one day to check on her children. Are they sleeping well? Did they eat OK?

The search was not easy, she said. She wanted a daycare that had enough staff to adequately care for her four kids.

“It was really hard,” she said.

Jody Bartnick is executive director of Community Coordinated Child Care, a childcare resource and referral agency. She said she understands the search for daycare can be difficult.

Still, there are resources available to make the child care search easier for parents and guardians, Bartnick said.

She answered three questions about going through that search.

Q: What factors should I consider in picking the right daycare center?

A: Bartnick said there are many different types of facilities, so parents or guardians can find what fits for them.

One major consideration is if someone wants a smaller, home-like center with only a few children or a larger facility with more kids.

A daycare facility that cares for four or more unrelated children under the age of 7 for less than 24 hours a day must be “licensed.”

A smaller program, sometimes in a home, serving three or fewer children while not meeting other licensing requirements can become “certified” and receive state or federal childcare reimbursement, according to state statutes.

When it comes to facility size, one is no better than the other, Bartnick said. It's just about preference.

To compare centers, the department has the online YoungStar quality rating system. The site rates thousands of childcare providers, with five stars representing the highest quality.

Bartnick said the YoungStar rating system looks at environment, curriculum, business practices and other factors.

The Community Coordinated Child Care website offers reports for the eight counties it serves, including Rock and Walworth counties. The reports include measures such as average costs.

The average weekly cost of care for infants in Rock County centers is $169, ranging from $125 to $245, as reported by Community Coordinated Child Care. As children get older, the average cost goes down.

There are many variables to consider, but it always comes down to what parents or guardians think works for their kids.

“Parents want to talk about curriculum and philosophy. Some parents are looking for vegetarian options,” she said. “(It can be) differences that fit a family's own beliefs and values. It comes down to what works for the children.”

Bartnick said it's better to start the search early because it can take more time than people expect.

Q: How do I see if complaints have been filed against a daycare center?

A: Agencies record violations by childcare facilities, but Bartnick stressed the importance of speaking with someone who understands the violations because the severity of violations can vary widely.

She said a professional can explain what the violations mean in real life. Violations can range from missing documentation of staff background checks to lead paint in the facility to a bad lid on a garbage can.

Over time, officials can see how willing centers are to fix their violations, Bartnick said.

“Get someone who knows what it (the violation) is,” she said. “Because, honestly, a missing paperwork form is different than a program that potentially lost a child.”

The state Department of Children and Families' Childcare Regulation and Licensing phone number is 608-421-7550.

Q: If I find a place or places I like, what should I do?

A: Visiting a facility is crucial, Bartnick said. Stopping by unannounced is also important.

This is still true even after a decision has been made, so parents can be sure a facility is maintaining its standards, she said.

Parents should also watch for new violations that could come up.

Variety also matters for comparisons. Painter said she looked at four facilities during her search, listening to references from people she knew and checking online resources.

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