LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Choosing a child care provider can be a daunting decision for any doting parent, especially when parents say there are few tools to help guide the way on finding facilities to avoid and those to seek out. The state has a tool to help, but few parents we heard from even knew it existed.
Relying on Friends and Family
Jasmine Martin lives for five o’clock to be at Halo’s Academy in North Little Rock to pick up 2-year-old London.
“It was a hard decision for me to send her to daycare,” Martin said. “I’m a first time parent. I’ve never been through the process of putting a child in daycare to get her prepared for school.”
Like a lot of parents, especially first-timers, Martin was worried about choosing the right child care. She relied mostly on friend and family recommendations to make the decision, because she didn’t know any other options existed.
“I used to ask a lot and people had said different day cares and things like that – but there’s not like a set source. You have to research a little bit and ask around,” she said.
And according to her, and a number of other parents KARK spoke with, it’s a common challenge: finding somewhere that fits with your schedule, is affordable and has a good track record when it comes to safety and services.
“I have several friends and people I see on social networks daily ask, ‘ I’m getting ready to send my child to a daycare, what’s a good daycare?'” Martin said.
Rankings and Resources: The Unknown
At Conway’s Children’s Center, Director Robin Gauntt has plenty of parents who call to inquire about hours and services, but she says many have no idea the state offers a centralized resource to search centers by the logistical criteria most parents are likely thinking about when it comes to narrowing down the options.
“Mostly the parents we get have heard about us from a friend or someone that someone works with,” Gauntt said. “Unless you know someone that’s in child care, or some type of field that deals with children, it’s just not out there.”
Martin said she was unaware of any database or search the state might have to help parents out, even though she said it would be a valuable tool to help put parents’ minds at ease.
“Those tools need to be readily available so that parents can make that choice without any worries,” she said. “It would have been really helpful.”
Better Beginnings for Your Kids: What’s Included
The state currently has the Better Beginnings program that will offer parents a ranking based on the additional training, health and safety standards, and education programs a facility has above the minimum licensing standards. Those rankings, from one to three stars, can be found at the find child care search on the website.
Based on a review of complaint data KARK obtained from DHS, the search seems up-to-date and accurate with complaint histories. According to DHS’s program director for Better Beginnings the rankings are meant to be an easy way for parents to gauge providers in their areas.
“It’s just like if you’re looking for a restaurant or lodging while on vacation the higher the star level the higher quality that facility has met,” said Beverly Wright. “We’re expanding that to four and five stars to give parents even more insight into how far some centers excel.”
According to Wright, the Better Beginnings program is voluntary for providers, although if they receive vouchers for subsidized child care, they’re required to participate and meet those additional requirements to at least obtain one star. Facilities in the search that do not have a star are not Better Beginnings providers and only meet the minimum licensing standards.
“If a facility is in Better Beginnings, they’re being monitored by more people. That’s because they have the training requirements, the education components and they have the minimum licensing requirements that they have to meet,” Wright said. “It’s the way we can help ensure parents know these facilities are excelling.”
According to Gauntt, she works to inform parents on the rankings and what Better Beginnings is all about. For her, it’s a quality assurance method, so parents can know what they should expect from her center. While she’s seeing more parents walk through the doors knowing what a three-star ranking reflects, it’s still not the majority of parents.
“When we do tours, we’ll have some families who come in and say they saw the ranking on the website,” she said. “But I would say that’s very few. Only about two out of every 10 families I take on a tour through the facility even know what that means.”
When we told Martin about the search and everything included on the website, she said it would have been a helpful tool when she was trying to decide where her daughter should receive daycare, considering she wanted more than just a babysitter.
“It would have been very helpful. It would have given me peace of mind, I know for sure, with deciding factors on a daycare,” Martin said. “I didn’t just want someone to watch her. I wanted to make sure she was learning and developing to be ready for school. The hope is she’s not just ready for pre-K or kindergarten, but that she’s advanced.”
According to Martin, she would be happy to start referring fellow parents to the site for searching, but she still thinks the word needs to get out beyond social media so parents can make use of the resource.
“It would definitely have to be broadcast a little bit more – because I can assure you people don’t know,” she said.
DHS reps said they are making an effort to continue to get the word out. They’ve used free publications, radio ads and providers spreading the word to make parents more aware. In some rural areas, they said, it can be difficult to find an array of media available to make the information accessible.
“We attempt to make sure they know — we could probably continue to work on that,” Wright said. “Ultimately, demand will drive more people becoming aware and providers educating parents on it. When parents start asking about star rankings, that should lead more providers to jump on board and improve child care for a lot of children.”
According to Wright, parents should feel confident in the place they choose for childcare, and a checklist of things to think of is also featured on the site. In general, though, she advises parents to take a tour of the short list of facilities they reach, ask about the children’s schedules through the day, education programming, open-door-policies and any complaint or licensing violations they may see online.
“It’s a really big deal that you select someone that will provide that standard of care that you would hope and expect they have,” Wright said.
Gauntt doesn’t think daycare should just be a babysitter, that’s why she strives to shine and maintain her three-star ranking.
“That’s what Better Beginnings has done for us is to give the centers that do provide that learning environment a way for parents to know what we’ve done and how we’ve gotten there,” Gauntt said.
While she and her staff work to teach the kiddos, Gauntt hopes more parents can learn about this tool to choose the right fit for their families.
In case you missed the links to the search in the article find it HERE.
Find a link to the child care checklist HERE.
To look at the list of all complaints for child care providers in Arkansas, to compare to your child care search selections, click here.
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