Beyond licensing, the quality of child care available in Wyoming varies greatly.

Finding child care to suit your needs in terms of cost, hours, location, ages served and curriculum can be difficult.

Availability can also be problematic, and experts recommend searching for child care as soon as you're aware that you'll need it.

"Almost every good child care provider in the area is backed up. They have a wait list," said Megan Suzuki, child care director at Casper Family YMCA.

Before you begin your child care search, there are a few things to consider:

  • Size: Would you prefer a small or large day care?
  • Setting: Would you prefer day care in a home or a facility?
  • Education: Do you want basic supervision, informal learning opportunities or formal education?

"Just really slow down, talk to other parents, and use the resources at the state level and advocate for what you need as a parent," said Jillian Balow, administrator of the family assistance division for the Wyoming Department of Family Services.

Here are some tips for getting started:

1. Talk to others who use day care.

People generally base their decisions on referral, said Deana Frey, executive director of the Wyoming Children's Action Alliance.

"Talk to people who you trust and talk to family members who you trust," she said. "Be clear about what you want. Do you want a smaller environment or prefer a larger setting like a preschool or childhood center?"

2. Licensing is the first defense.

"Licensing helps ensure quality," Balow said. "Any child care provider that's licensed receives resources in terms of information and continuing education."

Visit the Early Childhood Division of the Wyoming Department of Family Services in person or online to find licensed child care in your community. Access the website by going to dfsweb.wyo.gov and clicking on "Early Childhood Division" under "Child Care." Then click on "Find Child Care" on the upper left-hand side of the page.

There, you can search for child care by county and see who to call in your area for help finding child care.

A website with more search criteria is in the works, so keep an eye out for it.

3. Conduct phone interviews to narrow your options.

First, find out what ages are accepted, whether openings are available and if there is a waiting list. Ask how many children they serve and how many providers there are per child. This is also a great time to find out hours, whether transportation is available and discuss rates.

4. Visit the day care with your child (or children). Suzuki suggests not scheduling an appointment in order to get a more realistic view of how it's run.

"Say, 'Can I come some time this week?' and then pop in unannounced," she said.

While you're there, look at the layout of the home or center, suggests Frey. Look for developmentally appropriate toys, whether there is room to play and if there are different materials available with which the kids can create and play.

"Does it feel like there's lots of things for kids to do and learn from in that space?," said Nikki Baldwin, curriculum coordinator for the Early Care and Education Center at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

Questions to ask during your visit:

  1. What kind of training does your staff have?
  2. What is the protocol if an unauthorized person tries to pick up my child? (This comes up during custody disputes.)
  3. What is your discipline policy?
  4. How are meals and snacks handled?
  5. Can you describe what a typical day is like?
  6. Do you offer any activities to help parents stay involved? (Some child care providers host dinners or field trips for parents.)
  7. Are you accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children? (Few in Wyoming are, but it's a good measure of quality, said Nikki Baldwin, curriculum coordinator for the Early Care and Education Center at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.
  8. Are there other parents I could call?

For more tips on what to look for in a child care provider, go to www.childcare.gov and click on "Choosing the Best Child Care For Your Child" under "Parents."

Carol Seavey is special sections editor at the Casper Star-Tribune. Contact her at 307-266-0544 or carol.seavey@trib.com. Follow her on twitter at Carol_Seavey.

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