Parents looking for quality care options for their children when they’re at work typically don’t have a lot of time to devote to the search. Child-care regulations and facility guidelines can be complex, and quality can be hard to gauge. Just the prospect of looking for a child-care provider can be overwhelming.

In Indiana, there’s a new online tool that cuts through many steps that parents normally take to arrive at this most crucial of decisions. Parents end up with a short list of well matched providers to visit in person to make final care determinations.

Indiana Bureau of Child Care administrator Melanie Brizzi, in an interview with Government Technology, said the recently launched childcareindiana.org represents a convenient, user-friendly way to help Hoosiers make child-care choices.

“It's essential to get information out to parents so that they can make a fully informed decision about the child care that they're choosing,” she said.

This new online clearinghouse features a searchable database of child-care providers within the state. Parents can enter several different search criteria, and receive details on facilities that meet their needs. Families that need extended hours of care, for example, or a facility without animals due to allergies, can save time by appropriately narrowing their search up front.

The search returns nearby facilities that meet basic health and safety standards. Providers that meet additional quality thresholds can create online profiles to further educate families about their facility. Profiles can include photos, virtual tours and more detailed information about the learning environment and child-care philosophies.

“Marketing is a difficult task sometimes for child-care providers,” Brizzi said. “Having a tool like this available to them where they can showcase all the wonderful things that they are doing in a format where they know parents are going to see it is such a benefit to them.”

To date the state has provided training to more than 400 facilities on how to best capitalize on the opportunity to post an expanded profile. Brizzi estimates that 60 providers have completed their online profiles so far.

In addition to the facility information, the website includes many other resources for parents, including information about child-care regulations, a list of questions to ask potential providers on facility tours, as well as the opportunity to chat live with a resource and referral specialist.

Military Roots for Child-Care Tool

Developing this online portal in Indiana didn’t require starting from scratch. In fact, the foundation for the project came from a surprising source: the U.S. Army.

Indiana officials explain that the tool was first developed by the Army as a way to provide information on quality child care for the families of service members. The Army worked with the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) to access information about civilian child-care options outside the boundaries of military installations.

A few years ago, the Army shared its software with NACCRRA. Expanding on the initial program, NACCRRA now makes the product available to child-care resource and referral agencies. Several military communities in the U.S. are using the program, but Indiana, according to officials there, is the first to deploy the application statewide.

Jennifer Bump, director of the child-care resource and referral organization in Indiana, for the Association for Child Care Resource and Referral (IACCRR), explained that the approximately six months her organization spent in development has resulted in a successful implementation that other states can emulate.

"While we want a product that's great for Indiana, we also want a product that any state could adapt and use tomorrow." According to Bump, Virginia is exploring a similar statewide implementation of this online child-care resource.

IACCRR, funded by Indiana’s Bureau of Child Care, explained to Government Technology that NACCRRA was a vital resource to Indiana officials, and supported key customizations to childcareindiana.org to ensure the most pertinent data was readily accessible.

“We’ve worked to make the [provider] profiles more immediately accessible to people, within two clicks,” Bump said.

The new site was launched on May 11, which was National Child Care Provider Appreciation Day.

Noelle Knell, Assistant Web Editor Noelle Knell  |  Managing Editor

Government Technology managing editor Noelle Knell has more than 15 years of marketing and communications experience, writing about public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she graduated from the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history. She can be reached via email and on Twitter.