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Tools To Find the Right Child Care

Finding quality child care is important for your child’s safety, development and your own peace of mind. The first step in the search is to develop a list of criteria — the factors you’re looking for. Then you can find providers who meet your requirements. Below are some tools to help.

Criteria

Along with your obvious needs, such as hours of care, cost and location, you will want to make sure the child care center or home:

  • Is licensed by the state
  • Provides a safe environment
  • Offers age-appropriate activities andequipment
  • Follows good health practices such as washing hands before snack time
  • Adheres to appropriate staff-to-child ratios
  • Addresses your child’s development through its curriculum
  • Has a well-trained and caring staff
  • Has experience dealing with any special needs your child may have.

Several resources can help you decide what to look for and what questions to ask when exploring child care options.

Once you know what you’re looking for, state agencies can help you find child care providers that meet your needs.

DELAWARE:
Children and Families First

Delaware offers a referral service for residents looking for child care services in Delaware, southeastern Pennsylvania or Maryland’s eastern shore.

Debbie Renz, program manager for the resource helpline at Children and Families First in Delaware, says, “We don’t offer recommendations, but our service provides referrals based on what parents are looking for. Parents can speak to someone over the telephone or use our online searchable
database.”

A basic search with criteria such as location and ages of children is free. Enhanced referral services that offer more detailed profiles based on customized needs and help with legwork are available for a fee. 800-734-2388.

NEW JERSEY: Resource and Referral Agencies

Each county in New Jersey has a child care resource and referral agency that will help you, free of charge.

Phyllis Sanders, resource coordinator for the Camden County Department of Children’s Services, says, “We ask questions such as geographical area, age of child, whether they want a center or home provider, hours of care and any particular needs. The interview takes about 15 minutes. We then do our best to provide at least three referrals based on their criteria. We do not recommend or choose for them, though.”

Sanders says her agency will also provide a packet of materials about quality indicators, financial assistance and other information to help guide parents through the process.

NJ Local Resource and Referral Agencies
Burlington County, 795 Woodlane Rd., Mount Holly, 888-554-2077
Camden County, 512 Lakeland Rd., Ste. 200, Blackwood, 856-374-6376
Gloucester County, 900 Hollydell Court, Sewell, 856-582-8282

PENNSYLVANIA: CCIS Agencies and Online Search

The Pennsylvania’s Child Care Information Services (CCIS) agencies provide assistance, free of charge. When you call or visit a local CCIS agency, a representative can generate a list of providers that meet your criteria.

Connie Whitson, executive director of CCIS of Montgomery County, says, “We don’t recommend; we refer. We do an interview and parents give us information about what they’re looking for, such as hours of care needed, geographic location, accreditations they’d like the organization to have, information about their child like allergies and other needs. We will then provide them with a list of providers who meet that profile. We can also provide information about financial assistance.”

Pennsylvania also offers an online child care search that allows parents to select criteria such as hours of operation, languages spoken and special accommodations.

PA Local CCIS Agencies
Bucks County, 70 West Oakland Ave., Ste. 102, Doylestown, 215-348-1283
Chester County, 601 Westtown Rd., Ste. 310, West Chester, 610-344-5717
Delaware County, 110 S. 69th St., 2nd Fl., Upper Darby, 484-461-6400
Montgomery County, 1430 Dekalb St., Norristown, 610-278-3707
Phila., Center City & South, 1500 S. Columbus Blvd., 2nd Fl., 215-271-0433
Phila., North, 642 N. Broad St., Ste. 601, 215-763-0100
Phila., Northeast, 1926 Grant Ave., 215-333-1560
Phila., Northwest, 6350 Greene St., Ground Fl., 215-842-4820
Phila., West & Southwest, 5548 Chestnut St., 2nd Fl., 215-382-476

Pennsylvania Keystone STARS

The Keystone STARS program, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare’s Office of Child Development and Early Learning, is a quality rating system that supports and recognizes child care providers’ quality improvement efforts.

The program awards one to four stars to child care providers based on standards such as the quality of staff, the environment and the way the facility is operated. Each star represents a greater level of standards achieved. There is no charge to providers for participating and the program is voluntary.

The Keystone STARS website offers a search by area of child care providers enrolled in the program at  and lists how many stars have been awarded to each provider. The website also provides a list of the standards that must be met at each star level.

Associations

Several associations accredit child care providers based on high-level standards such as the qualifications of the staff, a safe and healthy environment and developmentally appropriate curriculum.

Each of these associations provides online geographical searches for programs with their accreditations on their websites. They include:

Directories

You can search several print and online directories of child care providers, such as the MetroKids Early Education Directory. The online version is searchable by location and provides general information about programs and links to providers’ websites if they have one.

Personal Assessment

Once you’ve identified a few child care providers that seem to fit your needs, call and arrange a visit with your questions in hand.
“Nothing replaces an in-person visit,” says Marlene Weinstein, director of early age education at MSCES. “You want to see warm and responsive interactions between the teachers and children in a healthy, safe, appropriately stimulating environment.”

“Don’t rely solely on any accreditation,” says Whitson. “Go and see the classroom. Every place has its own feel. You know your child. What fits for your child?”

Susan Stopper is a contributing writer to MetroKids.

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