Start Early. Start well.

March 21, 2023

Guide Helps Parents and Caregivers Find Quality Child Care

Child Care Essentials GuideIn Nebraska, about 133,000 children under the age of 5 and 75% of children under the age of 6 need some form of paid child care. Child Care Essentials is an online resource packed with information to help parents find child care or an after-school program.
By Ashia Aubrey 

Jessica Calvi remembers what it was like, scrambling to find what she hoped would be a safe and welcoming child care program for her son Valentino. He was born six weeks early and spent time in the neonatal intensive care unit before she and her husband could take him home.  

His unexpected arrival led her and her husband to search endlessly for child care before their parental leave ended. Jessica said she contacted about 30 child care centers in Lincoln to check for vacancies.  

“It was very shocking to see how long waitlists were,” she said. “I cannot emphasize enough how much stress that caused, because (not) knowing ... if I would be able to get him in anywhere was very stressful.” 

Calvi, whose son is now 1, is one of the many parents who face the challenge of searching for and securing child care. In Nebraska, about 133,000 children under the age of 5 and 75% of children under the age of 6 need some form of paid child care, according to data in the Child Care Essentials guide. Child Care Essentials is an online resource packed with information to help eliminate the stress parents may face in identifying child care or an after-school program. 

The guide is a resource Calvi used to help her navigate the child care system she was introduced to as a first-time parent. She said waitlists were a big topic of discussion when contacting child care programs. Providers told her, “We have people that put their babies on our list the moment they find out they're pregnant.”  

Calvi recalled touring potential child care programs for her son to attend and using the checklist provided in the Child Care Essentials guide. The guide contains questions that parents and caregivers can ask providers to learn more about the child care setting. The questions are also intended to help the provider learn about the parent’s and child’s needs.  

Calvi said, “I got a good laugh at one place because I asked, ‘what accreditation do you have?’ and she said, ‘oh, wow, that is the first time I've ever been asked that question.’” 

Other details inside the guide include age-specific information for children from birth to age 12. For example, a section on developmentally appropriate practices lists learning materials that should be in a classroom, like books and pictures. The guide also explains the importance of quality care for children and how “equal opportunities for all children to learn and grow in their early years—regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic background—is vital to Nebraska’s prosperity.” 

"To know the characteristics of a program, or a child care center, even a family home program, is important for parents to help inform parent's decision-making for what would be the best choice for the child and family,” said Holly Hatton-Bowers, an assistant professor in Child, Youth, and Family Studies at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and the principal investigator of the Child Care Essentials project.  

Alexandra Daro is a mom of two and a research specialist at the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska, studying the alignment and enhancement of early childhood systems. She said she understands firsthand how challenging it is as a parent, especially a first-time parent, to find child care and the significance of having a guide like Child Care Essentials to provide direction.  

In Nebraska, more than 72% of children under age 6 live in homes where all adults work, which is higher than the national average of 67%, according to the Annie E. Casey Kids Count Data Center. Daro said the data point proves why the need for quality child care is even more magnified in Nebraska and why this booklet is a step in the right direction of coaching parents on what they need to know.  

“It’s not just a helpful resource for finding child care, but it's a helpful resource for understanding what children need at specific ages and how child care specifically can support healthy development,” Daro said.  

Child Care Essentials was based on research— best practices and what qualities a family would want in a child care program depending on their child's age and the parent’s personal goals. The guide started as a short brochure called “The Right Place” and expanded into what it is now, an extensive parenting guide on choosing quality child care. Focus groups met to discuss how the brochure could be improved based on feedback and input from families, educators, and others with child care expertise.   

Surveys were also used to gather information about improving the brochure. With the Preschool Development Grant funds, Nebraska Extension educators from UNL used the feedback to make Child Care Essentials more user-friendly, said Hatton-Bowers and Jaclynn Foged, the co-principal investigator for Child Care Essentials. 

They worked with UNL’s Child, Youth, Families, and Schools team and early childhood Extension educators to develop the content and design, making the guide engaging and relatable. They also said it was important to ensure they had feedback from those providing child care and after-school services, as well as families. 

Foged said the content in the booklet should answer common questions parents may have, like “what is developmentally appropriate practice, meaning, what kinds of activities are children doing while they're in child care, and what could you, or should [parents] expect to see if you were a fly on the wall in there.”  

The guide includes colorful, family-focused sections with topics like what quality child care should look like, and lists of child care licensing options in Nebraska. It also provides some insight into the statewide Nebraska Early Childhood Strategic Plan initiative to align the content in the booklet around the strategic plan’s definition of quality child care.  

In addition, Child Care Essentials was also created to be interactive—readers can skim the pages and scan QR codes that will directly take them to additional child care resources. The booklet also focuses on why two-way communication is important between families and educators.  

“One of the things we know about parents and quality child care is parents seem to intuitively know what quality is and that it's the relationship with that child and the teacher that is really important,” said Susan Sarver, the director of workforce planning and development at the Buffett Institute.  

Child Care Essentials is available online in multiple languages. The Child Care Essentials team continues to work on ways the guide can get into the hands of Nebraska parents. This way, they can prepare early and take the steps needed to provide the best care for their children. 

More information about Child Care Essentials can be found here

Ashia Aubrey is a digital communications specialist at the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska. Previously, she was the associate director of communications at an Omaha nonprofit and served as a reporter and television news anchor in Nebraska, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.  
Have a question, comment, or a story idea? Reach Ashia at 
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