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Researching your child care options

Photo by Paul Moore/Photo Xpress
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A beginner's guide to finding child care

For those beginning their child care search, the options can seem endless, and difficult to distinguish.  Fortunately, there are some great resources available to help you get started.

The Indiana Family & Social Services Administration, through its Bureau of Child Care, maintains a "CareFinder" web site, which is loaded with helpful information, and is a great way to begin working through the options, developing a "short list" of providers to follow-up with, and formulating follow-up questions for each provider. 

To begin the process, click on the "Locate Child Care" link, which will allow you to search for nearby child care providers based on your city, county, or zip code.  The search results are categorized by provider type -- center, home, and ministry. 

Each result links to a separate page providing basic information about each provider, including address, contact information, hours of operation, capacity and age breakdown, and licensing status.  It also contains separate links providing the results of recent inspections, information about complaints, and other enforcement information. 

The inspection information is very detailed, listing any and every issue that came up in recent inspections, including items such as mechanical or safety issues, missing paperwork, and observations when the proper adult-to-child ratios were not being observed at the time of the inspection.  It's important to consider not just the number of issues flagged in an inspection, but their relative severity, as even the best providers can have minor issues from time to time. 

Complaint data is not as common, but this is because the Bureau only publishes "validated" complaints that involve regulatory violations.  Complaints that, upon investigation, are not validated, are maintained by both the provider and the Division of Family Resources, but are not published on the CareFinder web site.

The Bureau also oversees a program called Paths to Quality (PTQ), a free, voluntary program that allows providers to advertise their level of quality of care on a four-point scale.  For those providers that have enrolled in the program, their PTQ level is noted on their information page.  Level One indicates a basic level of compliance, in that the provider is licensed and in good standing, which in turn means that the State has found that all health and safety standards are satisfied.  Level Two builds on this with an environment that supports children's learning through a commitment to continuing training and professional development and incorporates elements such as consistent schedules, planned activities, and communication of program information to families.  Level Three adds a planned curriculum to guide children's development and prepare them for school.  Finally, Level Four indicates that a provider has obtained national accreditation.  

A brief note on licensing and accreditation:

Child care centers and home providers must be licensed by the State of Indiana.  Obtaining a license generally involves an application and training process, followed by on-site inspections.  Ministry programs, while technically exempt from licensing, may nevertheless elect to go through the licensing process.  Alternatively, they may simply register and submit to a basic inspection.  Subsequent to obtaining a license, providers are subject to continuing oversight and inspections by the Division of Family Resources.  Unlicensed ministries are not subject to this continuing oversight, but do have the ability to participate in a Voluntary Certification Program in order to ensure themselves and their clients that they are meeting the basic health and safety needs of the children in their care.

Accreditation, on the other hand, is not mandatory.  However, various national organizations exist which will give their "seal of approval," so to speak, to providers who meet their professional standards and criteria.  Such organizations include the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), National Early Childhood Program Accreditation (NECPA), Council on Accreditation (COA), National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC), and Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI).  The PTQ program recognizes accreditation by any of these bodies to support a Level Four designation.

By spending some time on the CareFinder web site, you can begin to narrow your options for child care in your area, while identifying issues and generating a list of questions to bring with you on a provider tour.


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