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PARENTING : Easing the Search for Safe Child Care : A state-funded agency provides parents with names of providers and tips for finding the best. All for free.

October 21, 1994|MARYANN HAMMERS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Maryann Hammers writes regularly for The Times

Few things incite more anxiety in parents than finding good child care. The task of finding a safe, loving haven for a child is espe cially daunting for new parents, who may not know where to look, how to choose a facility or what questions to ask.

Fortunately, parents have a partner to make their search easier. Since 1976, the Child Care Resource Center, a nonprofit agency headquartered in North Hollywood, has referred parents to licensed child-care providers in the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys and has provided tips and suggestions on making a selection. The service is free.

The most frequent--and most panic-stricken--callers are first-time mothers of infants, according to Barbara Hurlbut, a referral specialist at the center.

"New mothers who are ready to go back to work often don't have the slightest clue of what to do," she said. "They have the idea that infant care is not going to be good and it is not going to be safe. We send them brochures and checklists, so they know the good places when they see them."

The Child Care Resource Center is primarily funded by the California Department of Education, and it also receives federal and county money and assistance from local businesses. In addition to referring parents to child-care providers, the center holds child-care workshops, offers advice to parents and providers on everything from discipline to toilet training, assists employers who want to offer child care to their workers and operates a free resource library of teaching materials, games, toys and books.

"Our focus is on enhancing quality of care," said Ron Garner, who administers the program. "We want parents to know how to choose the best care." But don't ask the center to recommend which of the almost 2,000 licensed facilities on their database is "best."

" 'Best' is a very subjective thing," Garner said. "Licensed care comes in all flavors--and what one parent thinks is really good is not necessarily what another parent wants. That is why we make referrals--not recommendations."

About 14,000 Valley parents call the center every year. Referral specialists, many of them former preschool teachers with degrees in early childhood education, talk to parents about their needs regarding location, hours and budget. Parents are then provided with the names and addresses of facilities that meet their criteria.

Once armed with the list, parents are urged to spend time at the facilities observing children and chatting with directors, teachers and other parents.

"You always need to see the place when children are there," Hurlbut said.

WHERE AND WHEN

What: The Child Care Resource Center.

Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday.

Call: San Fernando Valley residents, (818) 762-0905; Antelope Valley residents, (805) 949-1180; Santa Clarita Valley residents, (805) 255-2474.

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