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Tips For Choosing Child Care

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Choosing child care for your children can be a challenging and somewhat daunting task, but it can be made easier by following helpful guidelines provided by the state agency that regulates child care providers.

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services' Office of Inspector General (OIG) helps keep Kentucky's children safe by performing inspections and investigations of child care centers. The OIG is responsible for certifying around 800 homes and licensing more than 2,400 day care facilities, 126 child-placing agencies and 72 child-caring facilities throughout Kentucky. Last year alone, OIG staff conducted nearly 3,000 annual licensure and certification surveys, and investigated more than 1,500 complaints.

"As Inspector General of the agency responsible for regulating Kentucky child care centers and, more importantly, as a mother, I know that the morning drop off at daycare can be an emotional time filled with worry and uncertainty for parents," said Sadiqa Reynolds, Inspector General. "Providing parents with reassurance that their children are in a safe and nurturing environment is a top priority of my office and one of the reasons we have developed guidelines to assist parents in choosing child care."

During routine surveys OIG evaluates many areas of operation, such as staff to child ratios, supervision and environmental issues, health and safety issues, daily programming schedules, play areas, proper transportation accommodations such as car seats and seat belts, and timely employee background checks. Whenever possible, OIG works with child care centers to improve services, but does not hesitate to act if findings indicate that children may be in harm's way because a facility does not meet licensure standards.

However, OIG staff are not present at child care centers all of the time, and that's why the agency is providing tips to assist parents when selecting child care. Parents play a key role in their children's child care experience by choosing a center best suited to serve their needs.

Before making this important decision, parents should:

– Start looking far in advance.

– Visit Kentucky's Child Care Resource and Referral Agency at kentuckypartnership.org to obtain the number for the one closest to you and ask questions: What are the licensing requirements? How can I get information about complaints and licensing violations? What centers are located in my area?

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– Once you've narrowed the list, visit the facilities, and ask questions of the director and the staff who work directly with the children: What is the child care staff to child ratio? For example, there should be one staff member for every five children ages birth to 1 year. What is the group size for a particular age group? What are the child care staff qualifications? What is the child care staff turnover rate?

– Use your senses – sight, smell, hearing, etc. – to observe the surroundings.

– Check for cleanliness and wear and tear of furnishings, toys, carpeting and paint.

– Assess staff and child behaviors - Do staff members interact well with the children? Do they address the children by name, respond to their needs, get on the floor with the children, or sit or stand away from the children? Are the children participating in interactive activities?

– Request references from other parents and follow up with those parents about their experience with the facility.

– Most importantly – trust your instincts. If something doesn't feel quite right to you, do not leave your child.

– Finally, it's a good idea to stay involved with the center after enrollment. You and your child care center are now partners in caring for you child, so make sure you are working together.

Parents have the right to know they are leaving their children with people they can trust. That's why all child care center employees must undergo two background checks: a criminal background check from the Kentucky State Police and an abuse registry check through the Department for Community Based Services. Kentucky law requires a person to pass both types of background checks to work at a child care facility.

Parents may also want to get a copy of the latest OIG report and the facility's license, which contains information about any problems as well as the maximum occupancy and services provided. This documentation should be posted at the center so that the public can view it. Parents should never hesitate to speak up on behalf of their child and inform facility directors or staff if they see problems.

"There are many wonderful child care providers in this state that should be applauded for the job they do. By working together, we as parents, care providers and state regulators can better ensure that quality child care is available for Kentucky's children and that we make the best choice for our children," said Reynolds.