CHILDREN need a safe environment to play, learn and explore — no matter where they are. When it comes to licensed child care, it is up to the state Department of Early Learning (DEL) to help ensure child-care providers can meet health and safety rules.
We agree with The Seattle Times’ columnist Jonathan Martin that parents need access to information to help make child-care choices [“Make child care transparent for parents,” March 4]. But there is more information out there than Martin suggests.
Every family looking for care should start by contacting Child Care Aware of Washington’s Family Center — the toll free number is 1-800-446-1114 — which specializes in free referrals based on families’ unique needs and desires for care. Child Care Aware staff members also will talk with parents about what key factors to look for when choosing child care. Those families wishing to begin their child-care search via the web can start at childcarenet.org/families
Only then should a parent use Child Care Check, the online tool that Martin mentions in his column. Child Care Check is meant to offer basic licensing history on child-care providers, including licensing status, valid complaints and cleared background checks. We at DEL have built and refined this tool over time with no new resources, patching together several behind-the-scenes data sources to feed into this public-facing tool.
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It is true that not everything is available online. Anyone who visits Child Care Check would see a note encouraging them to call DEL to learn more about the search results. A conversation with a trained DEL staff member would almost always be a valuable next step after reading the “dry bureaucratic language” Martin found in his search results.
Safety is the foundation of a high-quality early learning setting. Our focus in building a world-class early learning system is on both basic health and safety and high-quality programming that get children school-ready. We were disheartened to see only a passing mention of Early Achievers in Martin’s column because this statewide quality-improvement initiative is the way our state is working to improve quality and make more information about high-quality programs available to families.
Early Achievers gives early learning programs coaching and incentives to improve quality. In return, the programs agree to be rated. Level one programs meet basic health and safety standards required for child-care licensing. Programs that join Early Achievers and get higher ratings have strong instructional foundations, training for staff, and family engagement: all components that research shows contribute significantly to children’s success in school. Families can learn whether a program has joined Early Achievers when talking to Child Care Aware staff. Early Achievers participation is also indicated on Child Care Check.
This year, a bill that would require a formal review of child deaths or near deaths in early learning programs has received considerable attention in the Legislature. This dialogue has shined light on the important topics of safe sleep for infants as well as overall safety in child-care settings. We as a state have more work to do to be sure information about safe sleep is available to everyone who works with or cares for young children. But it would be a missed opportunity if we do not also fully inform families of all the resources available in the search for child care.
Bette Hyde, left, is the director of the Washington State Department of Early Learning. Elizabeth Bonbright is the executive director of Child Care Aware of Washington.