GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Finding affordable and high-quality child care remains a problem for parents as a shortage continues around the state.

The state has also shut down multiple day cares in Kent County so far this year. In February, the state suspended the license of a child care home in the Rockford area because a woman locked children inside tents. The operator of the home reportedly told investigators she had locked kids in tents over the last two to three years.

In May, the state suspended the license of a day care in the Cedar Springs area because the co-owner assaulted his wife and threatened her life while children were in their care. In June, the state announced it was working to pull the license of a day care in Grand Rapids, saying people with criminal histories were living in the home.

Although choosing the right day care for your child can be a challenge, especially if you’re a first-time parent, there’s help in Kent County to make sure parents can find safe and high-quality day care.

Great Start to Quality’s Kent Resource Center is a free service to families, hosting a database listing child care providers across the area.

“You’re entrusting your most prized possession,” said Jaime Mueller, the center’s director. “Sometimes it’s a little bit overwhelming when you’re starting out on your own and there’s so many questions you might have. Visiting our website is a great starting point.”

Great Start to Quality also has centers across Michigan, including in Portage, that help parents navigate through the child care process.

On the center’s website, you can search for day cares by location, hours and the type of care, including licensed centers, licensed family homes and licensed group homes. You can also search by program, ranging from cooperative to faith-based.

“Each provider has the option to update their program, and parents can do a search based on whatever criteria fits the needs of their family,” Mueller said. “There’s just a whole bunch of different criteria they’re able to search for.”

The website also helps you learn about a day care’s background. With each child care provider, there are direct links to the state’s licensing reports and inspections.

“We always tell parents no matter what provider you’re looking at, do your due diligence and make sure you’re checking out that information ’cause you want to know previous history,” Mueller said.

Great Start to Quality also provides specific checklists to help parents find the program that fits their needs.

Parents should schedule an in-person interview with the day care’s operators before signing up, Mueller recommended.

“Go into their program and meet them and see their space,” Mueller said. “See how they’re interacting with the other children. You want to make sure you have information about their routines and their schedules, if they work with and use a curriculum.”

Mueller said finding high-quality child care is worth the investment and the time to get it done right.

“By a child being in a high-quality program during their first five years, that’s really going to offer them a safe place to learn and to grow and to develop and to build and foster positive relationships,” Mueller said. “That’s going to set the foundation for their future when they go to school as they advance into careers and just life in general.”

Mueller also said there’s “hope on the horizon” for improving the child care shortage.

“It’s not a quick turnaround to solve the child care issue, but Great Start to Quality definitely has helped support and will continue to help support licensed programs that are starting up new businesses,” she said.

Mueller also pointed out that state funding and grants have opened new providers and reopened centers that shut down during the pandemic.

On Aug. 16, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a $2 million investment into apprenticeships, with 12 groups receiving funding to help more people become early education professionals. It’s part of the state’s “Caring for Mi Future” effort to open 1,000 new or expanded child care centers by the end of next year.