With more than 8,500 child care establishments in Georgia, according to 2002 statistics from the Georgia Department of Human Resources, it's no wonder parents are having a hard time finding the perfect match for their child when it comes to child care.
Dr. Nancy Webb says the first thing a parent should look for is safety.
"Safety is a key issue," said Webb, an associate professor of pediatrics and occupational therapy at the Medical College of Georgia. "Safety really does come first."
Parents visiting a child-care facility should note any potential dangers to children and make a mental note that those issues need to be addressed with the facility's owner or manager. Additionally, parents should take into account other components that signify quality in a child-care facility. Among them, Webb said, are the child-care provider, the environment, surfaces and the relationship between the provider and the parent.
"The child-care provider needs to be warm and caring," Webb said. "It's good if the provider has a background in child psychology or child development; not necessarily a degree, but at least some training."
Webb said it's also important for the provider to be attentive and respectful of each child's individual needs.
Second, the environment needs to be well-planned and inviting, Webb said. "Play is a child's work, and we know that children learn best with hands-on activities."
Third, Webb says parents should inquire as to whether the meals and snacks are nutritious and if parents are encouraged to be involved in the facility's managing techniques by receiving monthly newsletters, attending offered parenting classes or helping with facility fundraisers.
"Parents today take parenting seriously," Webb said. "They want these kinds of things. They want to know how to respond and communicate with their children."
Finally, Webb says it is imperative that there be a mutual respect between the provider and the parents.
"It needs to be a strong and trusting relationship," she said.
Agencies such as the former Lutheran Referral Services, now the MCG Child Care Resource and Referral Services at Augusta, can provide parents with information regarding a facility's licensing status.
"We want the quality of child care to be very high in Georgia," Webb said.
With an estimated 300,000 Georgia youngsters in the care of another adult while their mothers and fathers work, it's vitally important that parents be armed with as much information as possible so they can make an informed decision on where to place their child, officials say.
To contact the MCG referral service, call (706) 736-2122.
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