The labyrinth of childcare choices confuse even the most organized parent. Each decision seems to lead to yet another choice.
Does the child need a larger facility or a small family home-like environment? Where is the most convenient location? What type of adult-to-child ratio exists? And — let's not forget — how much will it cost?
For the last 25 years, parents have had access to a call center that simplifies this process. In only 15 to 30 minutes, trained specialists explain choices, options and deliver a handy list of nearby facilities that meet the desired criteria. The specialists also provide information on how to check the complaint history of each facility and home. In addition, the specialists go over a checklist of questions to ask and red flags for which to watch.
The call center, operated by Child Care Resources, has become a critical link between parents and information regarding childcare facilities and programs.
"This is more than just getting a list," said Deeann Puffert, CEO of CCR, the nonprofit agency under which the call center operates. "It's not like you are purchasing an item, you are selecting the right place to put your child."
The specialists also assess each caller’s financial needs and determine whether or not special circumstances exist. Depending on the age of the child, the specialist can advise the caller of the pros and cons of different settings.
Finding a quality and stable early childhood setting is good not only for the parents' work needs, but continuity of care in a high-quality is setting is best for children.
For example, an older child may flourish in a larger preschool-like setting and a toddler may feel more comfortable in a small family home with only a dozen or so children.
Parents also need to understand the impact that early childhood environments make in each child's readiness for school, Puffert says.
The specialists provide information about the community's other resources, including Early Childhood Education and Assistance Programs and Head Start. They also explain Seattle's new preschool program for those living in the city limits.
Each caller receives a list of local childcare facilities.
The program makes an impact. In 2014, the call center served 16,432 families and 25,534 children. Fourteen hundred of those callers spoke Spanish and another 138 families communicated in one of 23 other languages.
Communicating with parents in their native language is critical, Puffert explains. Children are deeply harmed by the inequalities of race and class that they experience in our early learning system.
A recent study commissioned by Child Care Aware of Washington found that 73 percent of the respondents came away from the call center conversations with an increased understanding of available childcare options.
Another key finding says that two-fifths of the callers came away with a better understanding of the link between childcare and a child's readiness for kindergarten.
Thanks to the call center, Washington is considered one of the leaders in childcare resources and referrals.
"When my agency, 4C for Children, was doing strategic planning last year, Deeann was one of the people I called," says Elaine Ward, senior vice president of the Ohio- and Kentucky-based 4C for Children.
Ward's agency provides a similar service in 15 counties in Ohio and three counties in Kentucky.
Finding a quality and stable early childhood setting is good not only for the parents' work needs, but continuity of care in a high-quality is setting is best for children, Ward says. The call centers help parents secure early care and education options that meet children's developmental needs from birth to school age.
"Call centers and similar services help parents know how much care costs, connects eligible parents to subsidy options and help families understand what quality looks like in care settings," Ward says. "It is a 'one-stop shop service' that fulfills an important need in the community."
The call center is an important asset for the community, even for those families who have a stay-at-home parent providing the care.
"At the core of the mission, every child needs a good start in school and in life whether they go to child care or stay home with the parent," Puffert says. "All of the children in each community will eventually be classmates and playmates and colleagues."
The Child Care Aware of Washington call center has been funded by state and city funds since its inception. Last year it received $800,000 from the state of Washington. Another $250,000 was provided by the cities of Seattle, Bellevue and Kirkland.
This year, the call center is not on Gov. Inslee's 2015-2017 budget. Without the state funds, the call center will likely be unable to provide service to 13,000-or-so callers that reside outside King County.
"The governor's office has had to make some tough decisions," Puffert says. "We have met with legislators and are hoping to get the funding included in the house or senate budget."