Area Child Care: Finding a Program That Fits

Tom Giffey, photos by Andrea Paulseth

Photos: Little Sprouts Academy, Menomonie, Wis.
Photos: Little Sprouts Academy, Menomonie, Wis.

Becoming a parent – especially for the first time – is a uniquely challenging experience. Sleeping, feeding, diapering – it’s all a lot to handle. And then, just about the time you think you’ve got a few things figured out, it’s often time for Dad and/or Mom to go back to work. Or perhaps your family circumstances change, and older kids who were cared for by a family member now must go to day care. Either way, you’re facing another vexing challenge: Finding a good child-care provider for your precious offspring.

To meet this challenge, west-central Wisconsin is home to a tool more powerful than Craigslist, the Yellow Pages, or word of mouth from friends of friends: We’re lucky enough to have the Child Care Partnership to help. The Eau Claire-based partnership is a program of Western Dairyland Community Action Agency and serves families in 10 counties of western Wisconsin – including Dunn, Eau Claire, and Chippewa.

The Child Care Partnership’s basic mission is giving parents referrals for quality child-care programs, says Becca Elbert, a Western Dairyland budget analyst. If you’re confused about where to find a provider, need help paying for child care through the Wisconsin Shares program, or are a provider yourself in need of training or other programs, the Child Care Partnership exists to help you.

Any parent, regardless of income, can contact the Child Care Partnership for a free list of child-care providers who will meet their needs. The agency’s database only contains providers licensed by the state, county, or tribe – which means, among other things, that their workers have passed background checks and the facilities are covered by the state’s YoungStar rating system (dcf.wisconsin.gov/youngstar/).

Finding that Peace of Mind

Elbert says one recent client was a family planning on relocating to the area that needed to find child care. The partnership worked with the mother and gave her a list of possibilities, helping the family find a place for their kids – as well as some peace of mind – before they moved here. Other clients include families of kids with special needs. The Child Care Partnership is able to identify places where the staff has the necessary training and experience to care for these children, she says.

Elbert’s No. 1 piece of advice for those seeking child care? “Start early,” she says. “The earlier the better. Programs fill up fast.”

Next, contact the Child Care Partnership. While the agency won’t find the one and only day care that fits your kids perfectly – these are referrals, not recommendations –they can make the job a whole lot easier. “We might be able to narrow down the list from 100 to 50,” Elbert says.

Once you’ve winnowed your list of potential child-care programs, your next step as a parent is to visit the sites and to ask questions. Try to see the place through a child’s perspective: Who will be watching your child? What will your child do when he or she is there? Will his or her needs be met? (The accompanying checklist will give you more points to consider.) Your gut instinct as a parent will help you determine if the program is right for you and your child, says Elbert, noting that the cheapest option isn’t necessarily the best.

Finally, once you’ve made your choice, stay involved, Elbert advises. Volunteer to help on field trips or drop in on your lunch break. As a parent, it’s your right – and responsibility – to know what’s going on with your child on a day-to-day basis.

Western Dairyland Child Care Partnership • 418 Wisconsin St., Eau Claire, WI 54703 • (800) 782-1880 or (715) 831-1700 • www.ChildCareReferral.org

Know Your Stuff!
A Child Care Checklist

This checklist, courtesy of the Western Dairyland Child Care Partnership, will help you determine if a child care program is right for you and your kids.

The Provider

• Is loving and caring.
• Understands how children learn and grow.
• Has experience and education in working well with young children.
• Works well with others.
• Encourages you to visit and to get involved.
• Uses clearly written policies and procedures.

The Place

• Is clean and safe inside and out.
• Has space for each child’s belongings.
• Has toys and activities for each age group.
• Is regulated through the state, country, or tribe. Ask to see a certificate or license.
• Has the legal ratio of teachers to children.

The Program

• Allows time for a child to play alone or with others.
• Plans both quiet time and active play – indoors and out.
• Encourages creative play.
• Uses friendly and positive words to guide a child.
• Plans time for play, learning activities, naps, and meals each day.