Child care providers are like surrogate parents. For some families, they spend more time with the children than their mothers and fathers. As a result, you've got to choose a care provider carefully.
ABC2 is working for you to help you find the right fit for your family.
You leave your children in their hands, with more than 10,000 Maryland child care providers tasked with caring for and educating your kids.
Kathleen Mitchell with the Campfield Judy Center says, "These people are your first responders to child development."
Some providers are nurturing that development in a better manner than others. An ABC2 News Investigation of nearly 7,000 local child care inspections found hundreds of violations for everything from exposure to potentially hazardous items to security failures.
Experts know these violations can and do happen. That's why they say it's so important for parents to arm themselves with information about what goes on in the places they leave their kids.
"It's always been available, it's just more accessible," says Liz Kelley, the director of Maryland's Office of Child Care
Kelley says accessible information about child care providers is available on the internet now on a state website, www.checkccmd.org . It shows the results of inspections done annually by the state's 103 licensing specialists. Parents can use the site to look up facilities to see a snapshot of their history. Kelley says it's an important part of finding the right care.
"The inspection results are certainly something to take into consideration but that shouldn't be the only thing they're considering," she says.
Instead, experts say it's the state inspections are just a piece of the puzzle. Mitchell says the process should be extensive, saying, "Parents need to demand a good, safe environment for their children."
The Judy Center can help you find it with 38 locations scattered around the state. Mitchell runs the location in Campfield location.
The group, which is state funded through the Department of Education, not only supports child care providers with training and programs, they help parents find the right facility for their family.
"We ask parents to go and visit, not just take the word of a friend or family member. Go and visit," Mitchell says.
And while you're during your visits, experts say you need to do a thorough look at the facility. You need to evaluate whether the facility or home is secure and whether the building is clean and in good repair.
Mitchell says parents should also determine whether activities appear to be directed at the right age groups and if play is organized.
Parents should also ask questions about everything from discipline to illness policies as well as staff training and curriculum. And make sure they're licensed with the state. Mitchell says you should also feel free to question providers about violations on their record to gain a better understanding.
"These professionals have to be responsible, not just for the well-being, the safety of our children but for their cognitive development," Mitchell says. "And, they have to take that seriously."
Providers have to be seriously focused, because in the end, they're caring for your kids and you have to feel comfortable. Richard Huffman, who owns Celebree Learning Centers, says comfort is the ultimate gauge for parents as they consider care, "They all enroll for one reason. They say it felt like the place I wanted my child to be so it's an overall general feeling as a parent that this is the best place for your child."