Many parents don't know a state website exists — https://benefind.ky.gov/kccps — for checking the star ratings of child care providers.

Also, many in-home providers aren't aware of the number of kids they can care for without being registered with the state. If they are turned in, their businesses can be shut down for noncompliance.

Regional officials who work with the Expanding High Quality Family Child Care in Kentucky pilot program hope to create more awareness about issues related to child care and hope to recruit more registered in-home providers. A group of about 10 representatives who work with the pilot program met Thursday at Audubon Area Community Services to talk about ways to get the word out to the public.

At least half of Kentuckians live in a child care desert, according to the Center for American Progress. A child care desert is an area with more than three children per licensed caregiver.

In 2018, Kentucky received a $1.2 million grant to increase access to quality care for infants and toddlers, especially those living in rural areas. The grant funded the Expanding High Quality Family Child Care program.

Last year, the pilot program started recruiting individuals willing to turn their homes into certified high-quality day cares. The pilot program provides a support system, including coaching, peer meetings, technical assistance, training and substitutes.

To date, 10 providers in western Kentucky have shown interest in joining the program, said Amy Hood, an infant and toddler specialist and project chairwoman.

"I think we have a good, solid start as far as the recruitment process," Hood said.

Two providers in Daviess County and one in Ohio County are among those who contacted program officials, and a Muhlenberg County in-home facility recently expressed interest in participating in the all-stars quality rating system.

In Kentucky, parents can check out providers on Benefind. Day cares are ranked from one to five stars — with five being the best.

Providers must be in business at least six months to receive a ranking.

The website offers prices, business hours, capacity and the ability to read past inspection reports, which provide details on topics such as supervision, staffing and equipment.

Nancy Roberts, Audubon Area Community Services program manager for The Training Center, represents Daviess County on the Expanding High Quality Family Child Care program. She fears large initial costs associated with providing in-home care may stop some providers from joining.

For example, homes must be outfitted with safety measures and liability insurance.

"There's a large overhead expense to get your home ready," Roberts said. "And the state hasn't provided start-up grants for at least 10 to 12 years."

In other business, the group discussed financial incentives available to businesses that offer child care options to their employees. The group hopes to form a regional focus group made up of businesses, which will assess needs and opportunities.

There are no regional child care options for people who work second and third shifts, said Paul Gronowski, AACS director of Workforce Development & Training Services. Employers discuss the problem with him often.

"Everybody is always looking for ways to solve that problem," Gronowski said. "Any solution for employers would be very beneficial."

To learn more about becoming a family in-home child care provider with Expanding High Quality Family Child Care in Kentucky, contact Hood at 270-681-5966 or at amy.hood@wku.edu.

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

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