If you’re looking for child care, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW) has a website that will act like your mom, your BFF and a detective all rolled into one. It will help speed your search for child care centers certified by the state based on your needs and preferences. The award winning website, COMPASS, located at https://www.humanservices.state.pa.us/compass.web/CMHOM.aspx was created to help Pennsylvanians apply for a wide range of health and human services benefits. By simply clicking on the “Early Learning Programs and Providers” tab you can search for center, group or home based child care.
A little primer for the uninitiated -- the type of provider relates to the number of children a caregiver is legally able to care for in either a residential or non-residential setting. For example, home based child care, (sometimes known as family care) allows a caregiver to care for one to six children in his or her house, whereas group child care allows the caregiver to care for a greater number of children as long as they have one or more qualified adult assistants to help out with the kids. Finally, child care centers, are in a place other than someone’s house, and can care for seven or more children of varying ages as long as the center employs the appropriate number of qualified adult assistants. Acting like your mom, the state has these rules and regulations in place to ensure that children are cared for safely.
Once you know what type of provider you prefer you can plug that information in, along with your child’s age, the hours of care you need, language preferred, and any special accommodations that you may need for your child. The site will even help you locate child care centers along a bus, subway, trolley or train route. It will also list centers that provide transportation to and from your child’s school. Just like a friend who understands your needs and wants to help, the system (once it has all this information), will run a search that will result in a summary of the providers in the county or counties you select complete with addresses, phone numbers and STARS rating of each center. The STARS rating is given by the Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) to help centers continuously improve. Centers voluntary enter into this program and can move from one star level to the highest star level four.
When you want (as Sgt. Joe Friday from the 1950s series Dragnet would say) “Just the facts, Ma’am”, you can click on the name of each center to get even more information, including the child care provider certification. The DPW certifies child care providers, and at least once a year, inspects centers and group child care, and on a random basis, inspects family child care to make sure the safety requirements are being met. This department is also responsible for investigating complaints about child care centers. By reviewing each center’s certification you can see when inspections were done, non-complaint areas, and the date the center took action to correct any problems.
Armed with the list of centers that meet your criteria your next step should be to call and schedule a visit to each one. Yes, I know this can be time consuming but a visit to a center can make or break your decision to leave your child there. Stefanie Stoudt, Assistant Director and Infant Room Teacher at The Children’s Garden, in Easton, gives tours of her center to parents looking for child care. “We talk to them about safety issues, tell them about our center’s emergency plan of action, the educational background of our teachers and our health policy,” said Stoudt who has been working in the early education field for eighteen years. “The parents have to feel comfortable and get a vibe that their child will have good quality care. They have to feel their child is going to be safe and secure.”
Choosing a place for your child will be easier by knowing what’s available in your area. That’s exactly what the state, through this website, helps you do. You can tell your mom and your friends (especially your BFF) that you thoroughly investigated the site you chose. All the research that you did will give you peace of mind, and will help ease the transition for you and your child to a new environment.