''The department is always monitoring and assessing policies and procedures," said Beth Scott of the DHS office of communications. "We work with the Oklahoma Child Care Association and child care providers to keep the system quality at the highest levels."
DHS also determines child care rates by:
--A three-tier Star Status system based on quality indicators. The higher the star status, the higher the reimbursement.
--If care is given in a child care center, child care home or the child's own home.
--Ages of children served.
--Whether child care is offered full-time, part-time or both.
A study by the Oklahoma Child Care Resources and Referral Association showed that a little more than half of Oklahoma families of young children use some sort of child care while parents work.
And, children under age 6 tend to be in day care for as long as a full work week.
Association Executive Director Paula K. Koos said the survey is "one more tool to let communities know how valuable childcare is and to know how many children are spending time in child care."
The survey, released earlier this month, showed that more than half of those who use child care -- 55 percent -- said they cannot afford to stay home with their child. Also, 78 percent said they use child care because the parents work.
More than half -- 57 percent -- of the parents said they prefer to use someone they know when selecting child care; 46 percent said a safe and healthy environment was another important factor. Most respondents said they send their child to a relative or kindergarten; 30 percent use a child care center and 21 percent use a child care home.
The survey showed that Oklahoma children under 6 spend an average 39.5 hours a week with a caregiver or center. The figure is 40.7 hours a week for children under 2. Both rates are higher than the national average of 32 hours a week.
The Oklahoma Child Care Resource & Referral Association is a nonprofit organization to promote childcare quality, affordability and availability for Oklahoma families.
Scott said Oklahoma ranks in the top three best chid care systems in the nation.
''And is the only one that annually requires three unannounced visits to monitor compliance with state standards," she said.
New state statutes that took effect in November further toughen standards, she said. The statutes include background checks for employees who provide child care, a requirement for liability insurance and authority to close unlicensed child care facilities.
Finding quality day care
Here are questions to answer in finding a quality child care center:
1. What do you want in a center?
2. Is the center licensed? Accredited?
3. Does the staff communicate well with parents?
4. What is the staff/child ratio?
5. What is the environment like?
6. How does the center discipline?
7. What are the staff qualifications? Backgrounds?
8. Is there a structured schedule? Curriculum?
9. What is the security like?
10. How much can you afford?
11. Are there pending complaints on the facility?
Sources: Oklahoma Department of Human Services; Children's Aid and Family Services of New Jersey.