QUALITY CARE: Tool To Find Child Care

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A child care provider may spend more time with your kids when they're awake than you. That's why finding someone to care for your kids while you're at work is one of the most important decisions many parents make. A tool can help you find the right fit for your family.

From playing outside to snacking in the kitchen, Susan Kopriva's home is a happening place, even with some kids missing. She says, "A lot of our kids go up to preschool right now. That's why it's quiet right now."

She runs Down The Street Day Care with the help of her mom. She says, "We started daycare about three years ago here in my home."

Her West Des Moines home is complete with a place for the kids to store their belongings, a big room for play, and a dining room to eat. Kopriva jokes, "This is the daycare dining room. I think it's the only daycare in Des Moines that has a chandelier."

Kopriva is one of nearly 4,000 child development homes registered with the Department of Human Services, and she is one of more than 9,000 Iowa programs listed with the Iowa Child Care Resource and Referral. Cathy Wheatcraft of the Child Care Resource & Referral of Central Iowa says, "Giving parents good consumer education because Iowa has fairly low regulation for child care."

The Iowa CCRR connects parents with caregivers through a tool on its website at www.iowaccrr.org and through referral specialists on the phone. The service is free. Wheatcraft says, "It's totally by the information they give us: the age of the child, do they prefer a certain type of childcare, do they want to look near home, do they want to look near work. Do they care if there are pets in the house?"

Once parents have a short list, referral specialists say you should set up formal interviews with providers. Then, pop in unannounced to see how they interact with kids. And, find out if the provider has earned a Quality Rating System. Kopriva says, "I have a QRS rating of 2 right now. And, I'm going for a 3 this fall."

Participation in the QRS is voluntary. One is the lowest and means the provider is licensed or registered. Five is the highest. Points are awarded for higher education degrees, professional development and environmental factors, like making sure the provider has enough hand washing stations.

Childcare providers can also get assistance in improving their facilities. Down The Street Daycare was able to buy a changing table and cubbie system with a $1,500 grant. Kopriva says, “They provide the funds to help you get higher on the Quality Rating System."

Kopriva says the system is a great way to learn about the quality of care, but, she says parents should make sure they're certified in something else. She says, "The #1 thing I think is American Red Cross certified with CPR for first aid. You want to make sure in case that emergency would happen, you're prepared."

And, parents should be prepared to ultimately make the decision based on their instincts. Kopriva says, "If you get a good feeling, you know. I mean they're going to be with your kids as much as you are, if not more."

As for child care costs, Kopriva says she charges $180 a week. A recent study by Iowa CCRR shows a year of care costs more than a year's tuition at a state university, which is about $6,600 to $8,000.