How do you find quality child care?

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ST. LOUIS – You don’t need much to start working at a child care center. No high school diploma? No problem. You just have to be 18-years-old and free of tuberculosis.

Missouri Governor Mike Parson says it’s not acceptable in the wake of Fox 2’s investigation revealing a child care worker caught on tape throwing a child. We also found child care center directors equally outraged.

Many people who work with children say the minimum requirements are not enough. They want to help you find better.

“As the Italians would say, ‘It’s the life.’ It’s what we should all be able to take part in and have this richness of life from birth,” said Ellicia Lanier, who founded Urban Sprouts Child Development Center school on the idea that children can often lead the teachers by showing where they are in development.

A kitchen is one of many examples where kids learn by doing. Children were making sandwiches and popsicles.

Across the hall, they’re incubating ducks. A teacher asked one of the children, “What happens on that day?”

“They’re going to crack?” a child responded.

Like the ducks about to hatch, Lanier has cared for some of these children since they were infants.

Lanier’s school has different areas that emphasize different senses, from audio and visual, to touch. Reporter Chris Hayes was struck by a feather cannon in the infant wing.

Lanier fought tears as she discussed what Fox 2 recently exposed at other centers.

She explained: “…because it’s not what any child deserves and there’s lots of things we can do as a community and as a state to regulate child care in a better way. To increase quality. To put dollars around supporting centers, so that more places could do more quality work.”

Lanier’s Urban Sprouts is on Olive in University City. She recently moved there from a higher income area - into a building that used to be an old spice factory. She said she wanted to be where families don’t have as many child care choices.

“This used to be my neighborhood. These children look like my children and I want this for all children,” Lanier said.

She said she’s not alone in providing quality childcare. Parents just need to know what to look for. Child Care Aware of Missouri has compiled a checklist where you can rank your choices with categories ranging from whether 'the cost is affordable' to whether or not the program will allow you to visit. (You’ll find the checklist, along with a list of questions Child Care Aware recommends asking providers, at the bottom of this page).

Robin Phillips with Child Care Aware said that should be a deal breaker for parents.

“They have to have a relationship with wherever their child is spending time. That means they have to go in announced and unannounced and interact and show up when they have family nights and engage – even if it’s for 30 minutes – just so you get a feel for what’s going on. And it can’t just be once at the beginning.”

Phillips said you should ask about a child care center's teacher training. She says some centers choose to abide by higher standards.

“Seventeen percent of them just in St. Louis City and St. Louis County are accredited through either our state accreditation or our national system, which means they’ve really gone above and beyond,” she said.

Urban Sprouts is one of only a handful of centers in the St. Louis area that follows the Reggio-Emilia approach, which can be expensive. When Lanier moved to her Olive location, she’d hoped to increase the number of families who could get subsidized assistance and she says she’s done that – with 57 percent of the families now getting assistance to attend.

She says it goes beyond government subsidies and adds that they need to raise $250,000 a year from private companies and individuals to run smoothly and sustainably.

You can find other quality centers by reaching out to Child Care Aware of Missouri to get a list of providers near you.

Child Care Aware also compiled the following resources to find the best fit for your family:

Child Care Aware: recommended questions to providers.

Child Care Aware: checklist for choosing a provider.

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