At a time when six out of 10 mothers with children under 3 years old are working or looking for work, childcare is more necessary than optional.
Some turn to relatives for help, but finding childcare can be difficult for those without that option.
That’s where Kansas Child Care Aware can help, Region 1 director Tanya Koehn said.
Child Care Aware keeps a statewide database of childcare centers, preschools, and family homes. A toll-free call puts parents in touch with a referral counselor, who can search for options that meet individual families’ needs.
“Our referral center only has licensed childcare providers in it,” Koehn said. “We don’t want people using Craigslist or Facebook because you don’t know what you’re going to get.”
Marion County has 23 licensed care options: one child care center, three preschools, and 19 family child care homes, Koehn said.
Marion has 11 licensed facilities, and Hillsboro has five. The other facilities are in Goessel, Lincolnville, Lost Springs, Peabody, and Tampa.
Anyone who works in a childcare center or preschool, and anyone over 10 who lives in the home of a family provider, is subject to background checks for child abuse, neglect, and criminal records. Unlike some states, Kansas checks only state databases, not national.
The average cost of full-time care in Marion County is $110 a week for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, Koehn said.
Koehn’s top piece of advice to parents was to “start early” looking for care, particularly for infants.
“Infants are harder to place,” she said.
Parents aren’t limited to looking for providers in Marion County; if they commute to work in another county and want to have their children close by, referral counselors can look for options there.
While Child Care Aware gives detailed information about providers to parents, they also have guides for evaluating them.
“They need to go interview to find the right fit for their child,” Koehn said. “They may have to make two visits — one after hours so the provider can talk to them. They also want to go during business hours so they can see the provider interact with children.”
Parents should go anywhere in the facility children will be, including napping and food preparation areas.
“My best piece of advice is to follow their gut,” Koehn said. “If they walk into a facility and they don’t feel like it’s the best place for their child, they should look at another provider.”
Koehn acknowledged that in smaller communities there might not be another licensed option.
“It’s tough when there’s that shortage,” Koehn said. “We sometimes talk to parents about doing childcare themselves. We want it to be a good fit.”