Read This Before Selecting Child Care
Photos by Hilary Cranford
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When it comes to child care, there is no “right” choice, no one-size-fits-all option, which can feel both liberating and daunting to new and experienced parents alike. Confusing star ratings, online reviews, opinions of friends and family and waiting lists a mile long can make the process even more difficult. In this article, find expert tips, read about the experiences of real local moms and learn about the most important things to consider when seeking care. Also, don't forget to check out our guide to child care providers in OKC.
Carrie Williams understands the daunting task of finding child care. Not only is she a mother herself, but sitting in her office at Rainbow Fleet, phones ring all around her. On the other end of those lines are parents hoping to connect to Rainbow Fleet’s referral specialists who will help them find the best child care.
“Picking care is so tough,” said Williams, who’s the executive director of Rainbow Fleet, a nonprofit that connects parents to child care resources. “Of course parents want something that’s safe, but beyond quality, they have to think about how far away the center is, what type of kids are there, the food they’ll be served, if it’s a positive learning environment. And then if all that checks out, can they afford it?”
Rainbow Fleet was founded in 1972 to connect families and child care providers with innovative child development resources. Among a host of other child development programs, Rainbow Fleet’s referral specialists, who all hold degrees in childhood education, are available via phone or online to help families find their best child care match. Their services are completely free for families.
Rainbow Fleet meticulously keeps an up-to-date list of licensed child care facilities and in-home care providers in Oklahoma and Cleveland counties, ensuring families have accurate, comprehensive information when selecting child care. Referral specialists help parents clarify their child care needs, understand the types of care available and become well-informed, quality-conscious consumers. While recommendations from family and friends are important, the all-encompassing nature of Rainbow Fleet’s list of child care providers means parents have greater access to all their choices.
“There could be a highly-rated in-home facility just down the street from you, that you’d never know about without speaking to one of our referral specialists,” Williams said.
Safety is the top priority for most parents when selecting child care, according to Williams. Rainbow Fleet only refers families to licensed child care providers, so families can feel confident that the referrals they receive are meeting state health, safety and caregiver training standards. Williams stresses that parents should always check a facility’s licensing record before placing their child in that home or center; records can be accessed at www.okdhs.org/child care. Rainbow Fleet also provides parents with each facility’s Oklahoma Department of Human Services star rating.
Rainbow Fleet doesn’t make specific recommendations for individual daycare centers or in-home facilities; rather, referral specialists help parents determine what type of care is the best fit for their child or children.
“Our referral specialists spend a lot of time discussing each child’s individual needs,” said Williams. “One child might thrive in a large learning environment, whereas another might do better with more one-on-one attention. We help parents really think through their options, and we can steer them toward a specific type of care depending on the child’s needs.”
Rainbow Fleet tailors referrals based on the age of your child, the days and hours you need care, your child’s personality, the location most convenient for you and your specific budget. Referral specialists can also provide custom referrals for children with special needs, like dietary restrictions or developmental delays. While the online tool is easy to use and offers instant results, Williams recommends calling a referral specialist to talk through options as well, especially for first-time parents, many of whom don’t realize how quickly they need to start their child care search.
“Homes and centers alike often have long waiting lists,” said Williams. “We can help parents begin their child care research process earlier in pregnancy, and we can help them get their names on waiting lists.”
Whether parents use the online tool (www.rainbowfleet.org) or call in to speak to a referral specialist (521-1426), they will receive a parent packet in the mail with information about the types of care available and the steps to choosing quality child care.
Next page: real local moms weigh in about the pros and cons of a child care center compared to in-home care or a nanny service.