Online directories aim to improve the search for childcare

For many parents in the District, the search for a child care space is frustrating and hit and miss, involving word of mouth recommendations from friends and neighbors and a fluke.

Now, a growing number of directories – public and private – are going online in the district and also across the country to help parents navigate their search for quality child care.

Last fall, the district launched a website called My DC Babysitter, with a database of 461 care offers, including 351 centers and 110 home providers. And this month, a parent, frustrated with the process, launched a paid search with information on more than 500 centers in the district and surrounding communities.

The district site was created to comply with federal requirements that require states to provide user-friendly websites with information on quality, health and safety standards, and specific information about each licensed supplier, including hours of operation and recent inspection reports.

“Families are busy. It is the most stressful and important decision they have to make. We want to make sure they have access to all the information,” said Elizabeth Groginsky, assistant superintendent of early learning for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.

Virginie also launched a website to help families find daycare. And Maryland was one of the first states in the country to have a database of regulated child care providers and support for families seeking care, a service provided by the non-profit organisation Maryland Family Network. States have long maintained hotlines that parents can call for help finding licensed child care.

A growing body of research shows that the years before kindergarten are a critical time for learning and that quality care in the early years has long-term benefits. In response, early educators worked to define what quality means and to work with providers to improve their level of care.

More than 40 states have decided to develop quality assessment systems for providers who accept federal funding. These notes are available on new directories, along with more general information on quality markers that parents can look for during visits.

Searchable directories could help some families locate child care centers they didn’t know about, but their overall impact is likely to be limited, especially for low-income families, due to the shortage of affordable care, said Katie Hamm, vice -chair for early childhood. politics at the Center for American Progress.

“These directories won’t help you pay for child care costs or get you off a waiting list,” she said.

In 2015, there were 7,610 licensed child care spaces in homes or centers for about 22,000 children under age 3 in the district, according to a report by DC Appleseed and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. And the district is one of the most expensive places for child care in the nation, with an average monthly cost of $1,868 for center-based child care, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Meghan McCarthy said as a new mother she went into her childcare search assuming it was going to be expensive and difficult, but she found the “opacity” of the search particularly frustrating.

Most child care providers did not post their costs online and it was often difficult to get a director on the phone in busy child care centres. She often had to go in person to get the information she needed, a process she found “unnecessary and antiquated in the age of smartphones and online reviews”, she said.

So the former reporter hired a professional pollster who conducted telephone surveys of 560 licensed child care providers in District, Alexandria, Arlington and Montgomery and Prince George counties and started her own business – Maternity — with an online directory that parents can access for a fee.

She said her research has confirmed that the cost of care is much higher in the district than in surrounding areas. But she saw more cost variation than she expected. “If I had shopped around, I could have saved $100 a week,” she said.

She asked providers about costs and waiting lists, information that is not currently available on the district’s website.

Other parents have developed online directories. CareLuLu was started in 2013 by two parents who were struggling to find care in the Washington area. The site offers a free search for approved providers in the area, including photos of each center and reviews from parents.

Parents also worked together to collect information about child care providers in their neighborhoods.

Tanya Snyder, also a journalist, says she did “a ton of research” when her first child was born and was surprised not to find more centralized information, especially on home childcare: “There’s one behind home that I wasn’t even aware of,” she said.

She started a spreadsheet and figured she’d share what she learned.

She posted a Google document on some online neighborhood forums with details of eight or nine centers and invited people to add to it.

Four years later, the spreadsheet has over 100 entries across the city and includes details such as principals’ email addresses, nearest subway stations and parents’ grades with details such as ” only has windows in the baby’s room” and “the owner’s kitchen. a hot lunch every day.

This spreadsheet landed in Villa’s inbox, after he sent out his query, along with a handful of recommendations for individual childcare programs. “I’m just getting started,” she said.

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