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WGLT's series that helps Bloomington-Normal's newest residents learn about the community as it exists, and empowers them to make it the home they want it to be.

How to find child care in Bloomington-Normal

Some corporations are opening up their doors to providing more support for child care.
Evgeniia Siiankovskaia
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WGLT talks to a Birth to Five Illinois expert for some advice on how to find child care center and in-home provider options, what you should expect to pay, and how to evaluate the quality of a provider.

Bloomington-Normal has seen a lot of transplants move to town in recent years. And for those with little kids, the hunt for child care can be as important as finding a home or a job.

As part of our Welcome Home series, WGLT spoke with Carol Weisheit, regional council manager for Region 17 (which includes Bloomington-Normal) of Birth to Five Illinois. That new initiative aims to re-imagine the state’s early childhood education and child care network. Weisheit has worked in the field for over 40 years.

Carol Weisheit is the regional council manager for Birth to Five Illinois' Region 17, which includes Bloomington-Normal. She's work in the early childhood field for over 40 years.
Carol Weisheit is the regional council manager for Birth to Five Illinois' Region 17, which includes Bloomington-Normal. She's work in the early childhood field for over 40 years.

Weisheit shared some advice on how to find providers, how to check their quality, how much you should expect to pay, and what questions you should ask when you go visit or tour.

“Parents don’t feel like there’s a central place they can go to ask all of these questions,” she said.

How many options are there?

There are 24 licensed child care centers in McLean County, with only one providing second-shift care.

There are 83 licensed in-home providers, with eight providing second/third-shift care.

Not all centers or homes provide care for all ages. Not all centers are full time; some are church-affiliated and do preschool only part of the week and possibly only part day.

The pandemic was hard on the early childhood industry. It led to the closure of some local in-home providers and centers, and the community hasn’t seen a new influx to replace them, Weisheit said.

“The demand is very high. Supply is very low,” she said. “What COVID shined a light on – for better or worse – is that our field is in pretty bad disarray.”

Where can I find child care options?

A good place to start is IllinoisCaresforKids.org, where you can plug in your address and search for nearby options.

Those results will show the quality of each provider – Licensed, Bronze, Silver, or Gold – powered by ExceleRate. That’s Illinois’ quality rating and improvement system for licensed child care centers, licensed family/group child care home, school-based preschool programs and Head Start/Early Head Start programs.

You can dig a little deeper with the Sunshine Illinois Accountability Project, where you can check on a provider’s license, search for compliance problems, or submit a complaint about a provider.

Still need help? Contact the Child Care Resource & Referral Network based in Bloomington.

How can I tell if they’re any good?

For an initial check, ExeleRate’s ratings are your best bet. Once you’ve identified the name of a provider you’re interested in, Weisheit suggests you set up a visit or tour with the provider.

When I tour a child care center, what should I ask?

When you take a tour, what kind of sense do you get from the facility and the people who work there?

Parents tend to only focus only on a provider’s hours, cost, or whether they have openings, Weisheit said. But even if you have urgent care needs, she stressed that it’s important to zero in on quality.

The best questions to ask are:

  • What are your staff qualifications?
  • What are your staff salaries?
  • What is the staff-to-child ratio?

“Those are gonna be the bottom line of how well your child is going to be cared for,” Weisheit said.

When I tour a licensed in-home care provider, what should I ask?

Again, when you walk in the tour, think about what it feels like inside. Are the children engaged? Do they look like they’re happy? What’s the environment like?

Weisheit also suggests asking about:

  • What’s the daily routine? What will my child be experiencing?
  • What does the provider do to meet their professional development requirements?
  • What are the hours? What fees might you incur for a late pickup?

How much will it cost?

Child care is expensive. Here is a breakdown of the average costs you can expect as of January 2023, courtesy of the Child Care Resource & Referral Network.

For a child care center in Bloomington-Normal, you can expect to pay over $300 per week for an infant or toddler, or around $181 at an in-home provider, for full-time care. Prices go down for older children.

“Most families are paying upwards of a third of their annual income toward child care. And that’s for one child,” Weisheit said. “When you factor in two children or three children … we’ve heard from so many parents during meetings and community events who say, ‘We did the math. It is cheaper for me to stay at home because what we’d have to pay in child care for our children was astronomical.'"

Is there any financial assistance available?

Yes, there is the income-based Child Care Assistance Program, or CCAP.

CCAP families pay a portion of the cost of child care as a co-payment (based on family size and income). You can check the income guidelines here or use the state’s Child Care Eligibility Calculator.

One challenge is that you need to watch your household income levels carefully, so a promotion or raise doesn’t inadvertently raise your income above the maximum qualifying threshold.

For questions about CCAP, contact the Bloomington-based Child Care Resources & Referral Network at (309) 828-1892 or ccap@ccrrn.com.

Are there any public or semi-public options?

Several institutions in Bloomington-Normal offer full or part-time child care options. They include:

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.