ATLANTA -- With so many different options for child care across the state, some parents can get confused trying to find the best service to help care for their children.
Last year, the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning's Bright from the Start program and the Quality Care for Children organization partnered to create a source for finding quality child care in Georgia.
"We offer free references for someone looking for child care from birth to 3 years old, pre-K or after-school programs," said Theresa Prestwood, vice president of Development & Marketing at QCC. "All 159 Georgia counties are served."
By calling 877-ALL-GA-KIDS or visiting www.allgakids.org, families can find out what child care facilities are located in their area and which ones are licensed, registered and accredited.
"To legally operate in Georgia, (the facility) has to be registered with the state," Prestwood said.
The company must have a trained director and meet basic health and safety guidelines that the state regularly assesses.
Due to the economic downtown, Prestwood said many families can't afford child care and may look to more affordable options that might not be the best choice.
"More and more parents are having a hard time finding quality child care for children," Prestwood said. "With unemployment so high in Georgia, you see families struggling to make good choices for children."
A recent survey by QCC showed that the number of child care centers in Georgia sharply declined in 2009, and the number of nationally accredited centers dropped about 27 percent in 2009.
"Supply is down, the number of quality centers is down and more parents have few options and are feeling financially pressured to leave their kids in care situations that may be unsuitable -- even dangerous -- in order to make ends meet," said Pam Tatum, chief executive officer of QCC. "Ultimately it's the kids who pay the price."
Some centers also are cutting things like teacher and staff training, needed repairs and supplies, such as books.
"People are struggling to make ends meet, and child care is expensive" for both families and providers, Prestwood said. "We want people to be aware of where their children are and make good decisions."
The free telephone reference service is available from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday when representatives will talk with callers to set up a referral. A bilingual referral specialist is available for Spanish-speaking families.
On the Web, families can search by location, cost and accreditation. Also on the website are resources on various topics in relation to child care and child development.
The organization also offers free monthly parenting classes, community and corporate presentations and resources for children with special needs. It also includes data on its Facebook, Twitter and Flickr pages.