The New Choice: Daycare Decision

Written by: Valorie Lawson - bio | email
Posted by: John Shryock - bio | email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Some stay at home moms are doing something they haven't done in a long time- going back to work. The economy is forcing parents to dust off their resume or start a new career.

So with mom and dad working the question becomes, "Who's keeping the kids?"

WSFA 12 News is looking at a "new choice" for many families, daycare, and what you should know before you drop off your child.

For many parents daycare is not an option, it's a must. "I would like to stay home and keep the kids," explains parent Latasha Norris, "but it's no fun keeping kids when you don't have any money to keep them happy, so you gotta have the money to make it in life...and you're gonna have to work to get what you want."

"In this day and age it takes a lot of raise a family," says Shae Dunaway, a parent herself, "and we wanted to provide things for our children and education down the road and it takes two incomes to do that."

Parents in Alabama have more than 2,000 daycare centers to choose from, and a lot of them here in Montgomery. "I think that daycares are necessary," explains Debbi Thomas, head of the state's Childcare Services Division. Her job is to make sure every day care center in Alabama is licensed and follows state guidelines. "Before we can issue a license we need to see the facility set up like the first day you plan to serve children," Thomas says.

Every center must have a license that's good for two years. Operators as well as teacher must undergo a criminal background check. Teachers must also undergo state training.

"I think that with the amount of training our providers have had, I think they do a good job of trying to make sure children are safe so parents can go to work and feel safe," admits Thomas.

Be warned. There are centers operating without a state license. State law exempts some faith-based facilities. A recent study finds Alabama is one of 14 states to allow centers to operate without a DHR license. Here 43 percent or 850 of them are exempt.

Does being exempt mean it isn't a good quality center? No. Many of these centers are well respected in the community. It just means the state can't inspect them. They are, however, inspected by the health department if they serve food. The fire department also checks for safety codes.

"When we have facilities in the state that the state does not regulate we have no sense of what's going on in those facilities..." warns Sophia Bracy of FOCAL, the Federation of Child Care Centers of Alabama. It's a major concern.

Bracy says, "What we are saying is that there is a basic floor by which we say in the state of Alabama that if children are being cared for in this facility, minimally these are the kinds of things that must happen in this facility to meet the health and safety of children."

Only five centers have lost or had their license suspended in the last two years for failing to follow state guidelines.

Licensed centers are inspected by DHR, the state health department and fire department. When parents visit a center they should do their own inspection and watch how teachers interact with the children. "Some of the most common violations we find at a facility are child to staff ratio," says Bracy. "Too many children not enough workers. Transportation issues. They may not have car seats or seat belts. Diapering procedures. They may change two or three children without washing their hands or use gloves."

At Thomas Child care Center, Director Deborah Cunningham has an open door policy for parents. "When they've worked all day they want to make sure when they pick their children up they want to make sure their children are happy, that they've been safe and in good hands..."

The bottom line: Do your homework and don't rush. It's about your child and where he or she will spend most of their day.

If you are considering putting you child in daycare you can call a hotline set up by the Department of Human Resources. Someone will share with you any recent complaints or violations against the daycare you are inquiring about. The number is 1-866-528-1694. The website is

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