WAFF Investigates: Daycare Dilemma - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

WAFF Investigates: Daycare Dilemma

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HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -

Working mother of two, Jennifer Strother of Madison has lived in the area for an entire year, but still struggles to find child care and to figure out which providers are the safe ones to trust with her precious treasures.

She says it's a difficult search, with parents having to rely on the phone book or other unhelpful resources.

Strother worked in childcare herself. She says the horror stories make it critical for parents to have outside information on day cares.

While Alabama's Department of Human Resources licenses 1,000 child care centers across the state, it provides much less data for families looking for information, than other states do.

Since 1998, Oklahoma for example, has provided a searchable database of child care providers, each of them assigned a score for quality. This kind of "Quality Rating and Improvement System" or "QRIS," is now available in half the states.  It measures each child care center by criteria such as community engagement, safety,  and the education levels of its staff.

Alabama DHR doesn't go into such detail. It does provide a directory of child care facilities and it offers a parents' child care guide.

"Can parents find what they need to get decent child care? They can find a lot of information," said DHR Webmaster Barry Spear. "It's up to the parent to make sure they're comfortable with the place that they put their child."

"The state provides a checklist, but that's not anything more than a parenting magazine provides," said Strother.

"Are parents looking for child care doing it blind? I don't believe they're necessarily blind," said Jeanetta Green with DHR. "I think there is always more information that we can put out there."

Now DHR representatives are launching a pilot program for their own QRIS system, under the name "Alabama Quality Stars."

Starting in October, trained evaluators will score 50 child care providers around the state.

"We're going to look at different sizes - different areas of the state, rural, urban," said Green.
"Their management administrative practices, their interactions with parents, their learning environment and their curriculum."

DHR representatives say they're taking particular inspiration from the experience of North Carolina and Oklahoma, the states that have had the QRIS system in place the longest. Eventually they say, parents could go online and pick a child care center just like you'd pick out a movie or a restaurant."

"When I go to the DHR website and see three stars, four stars, five stars, it will give me an indication of the level of quality of that facility just by seeing that star rating," explained Green.

"Alabama Quality Stars" is projected to go online statewide in the fall of next year. Child care providers won't all have to be evaluated. Participation will be voluntary, but the hope is that a high score will become a badge of honor.

Georgia just started its QRIS program last year, and more providers than expected signed up.

"[Day cares] can publicize those within their community, giving things to their parents so they can let their parents know, 'hey, we have attained a four out of five star rating,'" said Green.

"That would be ideal. We're used to five star ratings for restaurants, said Strother.

Strother says the state has some catching up to do, but that some clear standard comparisons would be a big improvement.  

"I would not say that we are behind other states," said Green. "There are some states that are ahead of us, but then there are some states that are not at the same level that we are. So I would say that we are working toward new goals," said Green.

For more information about child care services in Alabama, you can visit the DHR website (http://1.usa.gov/1dr0o2L). They provide a facilities visited checklist for parents. (http://1.usa.gov/187YKNu)

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