Parents for Safe Child Care

Day care search can be daunting

Monday, June 24, 2002


Lorna Chong started looking for child care when she was three months pregnant, calling day cares near her Ballard home.

She had no idea how tough finding a decent place could be. Some listed providers were out of business; others had no slots available. A few were flat-out rude.

A couple of months before Chong was due to return to work, she and her husband finally found what they wanted: a neighborhood in-home day care for their son, Nahoa, now 15 months old.

Finding and holding on to good day care is more challenging than most new parents anticipate. Waiting lists can be long. Care is expensive. If a parent is searching for infant care, part-time hours or care for children with special needs, the search becomes even harder. And parents often find themselves scrambling for alternatives when a provider closes shop.

"A lot of it has to do with luck -- that's what I decided," Chong said.

Parents need to begin the hunt early, especially if they're interested in a particular center.

"I began looking the moment I knew I was pregnant," said Debbie Faulkner, a mother of two who works in downtown Seattle. "I didn't want to miss out on a child care center I really wanted because I got on their waiting list too late."

Child Care Resources, a referral service, provides telephone or online searches of child care options based on criteria such as location and type of care. It doesn't provide any indication, however, of the center's quality of care or track record. It's up to parents to do what experts recommend: check references, call the state for complaint histories, interview prospective providers thoroughly and drop in unannounced.

Cost is always a factor. For many, child care is a financial wash.

"My pay covers the child care bills, and that's the trade-off for working outside of the home," said Chong, who pays her day care provider $1,000 a month.

For low-income parents, government subsidies and federally supported programs such as Head Start can be a godsend. But those subsidies get cut when a parent's income rises.

When Lucy Stensgard's child care co-payment leaped from $20 to $120 a month last year, she cut back on her hours at work and pulled her son, Troy, now 6, out of day care.

"It was better than having to pay the extra $100 a month," she said.

Making sure the day care is a good fit for a child's personality is also important, some parents say.

Nancy Strom, a mother of two in Greenwood, learned that when she placed her son in a large child care center on Phinney Ridge. Within a few months, Nicholas, then 2 1/2 years old, was having behavior problems because of overstimulation.

"We took him out of that day care, but he was there way too long," Strom said.

Having been through the search for child care herself, Chong offers this advice: "Go with your gut feeling. If something doesn't feel right, walk away."

Parents for Safe Child Care is a 501(c)(3) non-profit