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FAMILY FOCUS: Finding the right child care for your family

There are hundreds of licensed child care providers just in Lucas County. There is an online tool to help you narrow down the field.

TOLEDO, Ohio — Turning your child over to a stranger is scary, but the reality is many parents need to work and can't stay home with their kids. We want to help you find the right fit for your family. 

Brightside Academy on Lagrange Street in Toledo serves about 175 children from birth to five years old. The head start program is more than just a babysitter. 

"One of the things that we're always trying to promote is school readiness goals. Being able to provide children of this age the opportunity to be ready for kindergarten," said Director Maribeth Tercha. 

Brightside Academy is one of hundreds of child care providers in Lucas County. Picking one can be overwhelming. Job and Family Services says a good place to start is talking with your friends to get recommendations. Lucas County's Child Care Coordinator, Brian Bohnsack warns against picking the closest place to your home. 

"The number one reason people choose a child care is convenience to home. And if they go on the website and do a little searching, they can find others that are convenient to home, but maybe ones that they feel are a better fit," said Bohnsack.

That website he's referring to is childcare.ohio.gov. There you can search for child care providers in a variety of ways, including zip code. Once you narrow your search, you can click on each individual child care provider and look at past inspections.

Bohnsack's department is in charge of visiting in-home child care providers twice a year to make sure they're providing a safe and educational environment and not breaking any rules. 

"We not only cite them for doing that, but we also explain the reason why so the providers know we're not just doing thus just to follow a rule but to ensure the safety of the kids," said Bohnsack.

Also on the website, you'll notice stars next to certain providers. This is related to the Step up to Quality Program. Bohnsack said the state developed the program as a way to make sure children are ready for kindergarten. 

By mid-next year, it will be mandatory for child care providers to participate. Bohnsack said a one-star rating doesn't mean the provider is bad. It means they're working toward building a better educational environment that goes above basic state requirements. 

"The first star are the ones that are just beginning the process. They're seeking out the information. The two stars are they're putting it into play. Then you get the higher three, four and five stars. The highly rated ones," he explained.

Brightside Academy has five stars. Tercha said to achieve that level, teachers have early childhood education degrees and they follow a professional development plan. 

"Our ratios are lower than a typical child care center would be. We also provide additional support, a support team of social services workers that help parents that are in need," she also said. 

If you pick a few providers you think are a good fit for your family, Bohnsack recommends visiting those centers. They should be happy to show you around. He says to ask about sick day policies for both your children and their staff. He says to steer clear of unlicensed providers.

Keep in mind, the vibe you get from a provider can go a long way. 

"Making sure that you just feel right. Does it smell good? Are the children happy? Just, it has to feel right for the parent," said Tercha.

Whatever you do experts say, don't wait until the last minute to find the provider you'll be trusting to care for your child.

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