There are many important decisions you are going to make for your child over the course of his or her time with you. If you are like many parents, one of the biggest choices is going to come in the form of choosing child care for them. How do you know if the child care facility is a good one? The state of Tennessee knows that this is a difficult decision, with literally thousands of websites devoted to offering advice about day care and child care facilities in the area. However, the state offers an extremely safe and credible source for locating and interviewing prospective child care facilities. You can not only locate all of the licensed child care facilities within an area, but you can view their ratings, whether they have had any complaints and what the staff credentials are. This can be an incredible resource as you and your family attempt to find a situation that is not only affordable, but offers a safe place where your child will be happy.
Free Child Care Location Services
The Department of Human Services in Tennessee maintains the Child Care Resource and Referral Centers throughout the state. These centers offer free resources to parents and can help you learn what to look for when choosing quality care. This is also the department that is responsible for licensing child care centers throughout the state. They recognize four types of child care facilities, which include family child care homes, group child care homes, child care centers and drop-in centers.
Types of Child Care
Child care centers are the most common type of child care facility in Tennessee. These centers are operated in the state through commercial properties. Thirteen or more children may be cared for in these types of child care facilities. Family care homes are limited to only five to seven children (unrelated to the caregiver). Group child care homes can take in eight to twelve, and drop-in centers can care for 15 or more children, but have limited numbers of hours per day and week per child. The state regulates how many children per teacher, and how much space per child should be provided. Of the different types of child care offered in Tennessee, child care centers provide care for approximately 171,000 children daily. In Tennessee, there are approximately 1,039 Family and Group child care homes. Centers that only operate less than three hours a day, such as Mom’s Day Out groups, do not have to be licensed.
Licensing Required for Child Care
Each type of child care facility must be licensed by the state if they offer care to five or more children for more than three hours a day. Facilities that have good certifications have passed rigorous health and fire inspections. Licensed facilities also have a minimum standard that everyone working there must meet, including a background check. Tennessee utilizes a star rating system. This is a voluntary program for providers who have not only met the state’s basic requirements, but have exceeded them. A report card is issued each year, with a grade in each important component area. One of the key questions to ask a potential facility is if they have any stars, and in what areas. The more stars on a report card, the higher the facility has risen above the minimum standards.
Visiting the Potential Child Care Facility
You should plan to visit without your child, as you want your full attention to be on the center. Plan to visit at least twice, the first time as a scheduled appointment and tour. The second visit should be impromptu, and you should ask to view the entire program, not just the classroom where your child would be. How are teachers dealing with discipline problems? Does the staff seem friendly and are the rooms set up to reflect learning as well as playtime? Once you have visited a few times, you should have a very good idea of how the facility operates.
Finding Affordable Child Care
Very often, you will find a facility that seems perfect, that is until you view the monthly fee. However, you should carefully evaluate the summary of charges. In other words, what is included in the fee? If the school provides a hot lunch, snacks and other additional amenities, then you may be receiving a level of care that will actually save you money in the long run. If the facility asks you to pack a lunch for your child and to provide snacks, then you must figure this into your overall cost of child care each month. If finances are tight, then you may qualify for the Smart Steps Child Care Payment Assistance program. This program requires you to be employed at least 30 hours a week, or be going to school. The applications can be printed out, but must be submitted in person at the local DHS child care office.