Sunshine Week: How to check your child care options

ERIN O’NEILL The Marietta Times Kyla Ferguson, a child care worker at Betsey’s Learning Tree Infant & Toddler Center, helps some of the toddlers wind down before nap time on Thursday. Betsey’s Learning Tree has a three-star rating with the state’s Step Up To Quality program.

Finding quality child care is often something that keeps parents up at night. But there are several ways to check out a facility or in-home provider to help make an informed choice.

As part of Sunshine Week, an initiative to educate the public about open government and public records, The Marietta Times looked into different resources available to parents.

“If more than six children are being cared for — or more than three children under age 2 — parents should make sure the child care provider is licensed and complying with all health and safety standards,” said Angela Terez, with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. “Parents should visit programs they’re interested in and ask questions unique to their needs. For help, they can contact the Ohio Child Care Resource and Referral Association (occrra.org), a nonprofit that helps parents find high-quality child care that fits their needs.”

Parents can also search a database of licensed providers by visiting childcaresearch.ohio.gov, according to Terez.

“You can search for providers by county, city, zip code, program type and Step Up To Quality rating. You also can find providers in the publicly-funded child care program. Programs serve children of all ages, from infants to preschoolers to school-age children who need child care before and after school. By clicking on the name of a specific provider, you can view inspection reports for that provider,” she said.

Step Up To Quality is Ohio’s five-star tiered quality rating and improvement system. It recognizes programs that exceed minimum health and safety standards and promote children’s learning and development. All provider types — including child care centers, family child care homes and preschools licensed by the Ohio Department of Education — are eligible to participate in Step Up To Quality. By 2020, providers will be required to participate in Step Up To Quality to receive state funding, according to Terez.

In Washington County, there are six licensed child care centers with a SUTQ rating of three stars or better. This is out of the 27 centers listed on the childcaresearch.ohio.gov website. There are also five Licensed Type B Family Child Care Home providers, none of which are rated.

Betsey’s Learning Tree Infant & Toddler Center earned a three-star rating with Step Up to Quality in June, according to administrator Tiffany Ferguson.

“It’s hard. It’s a very intense process and now that we have it we will definitely strive to keep it,” Ferguson said. “As far as I know, we’re the only three-star, besides the Evergreen Center (at Washington State) that accepts infants and toddlers.”

To qualify, a program must have a desk review conducted by ODJFS and a verification visit at the site, which consists of observation and interview. The program must meet the program standards for the star rating applied for as described in the appendices to rule 5101:2-17-01 of the Administrative Code.

For an individual or a center to be licensed, they must take a pre-licensing orientation training, submit an application with a fee and comply with all health and safety licensing rules– including securing building, fire and food service inspections– as well as hire a qualified administrator and staff and comply with a pre-licensing inspection, according to Terez.

“If the provider meets all requirements, they are granted a one-year provisional license. During the first year, they will be inspected at least two times. After that, licensing staff make a recommendation to amend the license to a continuous license or recommend revoking the license. Upon being amended to a continuous license, providers are inspected at least once annually and any time there is a complaint,” she said.

The Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development goes one step further in the child care searching process by offering individualized referrals. COAD is part of a statewide network of nonprofit child care resource and referral agencies serving 31 counties of eastern and southern Ohio. They maintain a list of approximately 1,500 child care programs including Head Start, public pre-schools, child care centers, family child care homes, school age programs and infant care programs. Coad4kids is funded primarily through the Federal Child Care Development Block Grant via the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

“This service is free to everybody and you can talk to someone about your child and your specific needs,” said Maureen Boggs, director of the Early Care & Education Division of COAD.

All of the staff have been nationally trained on best practices for early childhood. Boggs said the staff can call, email and text clients. An online search is available outside of business hours.

Jennifer Loman, regional coordinator in COAD’s Marietta office, said their trained counselors help gather specific data, such as hours, days, locations and special needs of the child.

“We are then able to narrow it down. Instead of receiving a list of 20 providers, which can be overwhelming, we can narrow it down to three. We offer sample questions the parents can ask and our referrals show the Step Up to Quality rating,” Loman said.

To speak to a counselor with COAD, call 800-577-2276 or visit coad4kids.org.

Online resources

¯ Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development (COAD): coadinc.org or coad4kids.org

¯ Washington County Department of Job and Family Services: wcdjfs.org

¯ Ohio Search for Early Care and Education: childcaresearch.ohio.gov

¯ Ohio’s Bold Beginning: boldbeginning.ohio.gov

¯ Child Care Solutions: ohiochildcarefinder.org

¯ 4C for Children: 4cforchildren.org

¯ Ohio Child Care Resource and Referral Association: occrra.org

Source: Times research.

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