ERIC Identifier: ED425866
Publication Date: 1998-12-00
Author: Goldstein, Anne
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Champaign IL.
Child Care Consumer Education on the Internet. ERIC Digest.
One of the most important decisions that parents make is choosing child care
for their children. Families need high-quality, affordable child care so that
they can balance the demands of family and work life and be successful as
parents and as workers. Child care consumer education provides parents with the
information they need to help them assess their needs, locate services, evaluate
quality, and choose the best possible care for their children.
CHILD CARE CONSUMER EDUCATION STRATEGIES
There are two
broad strategies for disseminating child care consumer education information:
direct consultation with parents and multimedia public awareness campaigns. Many
parents obtain information about choosing high-quality child care through
telephone or face-to-face contacts with community-based child care resource and
referral agencies. This approach gives parents personalized attention, allows
the consumer educator to tailor information to each family's needs, and supports
the child care decision-making efforts of parents (Mitchell, Cooperstein, & Larner, 1992).
To augment these individualized strategies, national, state, and community
organizations develop multimedia public awareness campaigns designed to provide
consumers, potential consumers, employers, and others in the community with
general information on the importance of high-quality child care. These
campaigns may involve the distribution of various printed materials, such as
brochures, pamphlets, checklists to help parents identify high-quality care,
fact sheets, and articles. Other community-wide strategies used to communicate
the message include billboards and announcements on public transportation. Some
campaigns have also included flyers containing general messages about the
importance of high-quality care as an enclosure with utility bills.
In addition to these print resources, multimedia public awareness campaigns
include videotapes that may be shown in hospital maternity centers, doctors'
offices, health clinics, and social service agencies, and public service
announcements (PSAs) for radio and television. Many communities have used local
events such as health fairs and school functions as further opportunities to
share child care consumer education information.
States and local communities have also begun exploring the use of computer
technology to deliver child care related information to families when and where
they need it. These initiatives have included specialized CD-ROMs, kiosks in
shopping malls and other public spaces, electronic bulletin boards, and targeted
Web sites on the Internet.
CHILD CARE CONSUMER EDUCATION ON THE INTERNET
of a nationwide multimedia consumer education campaign that integrates
Internet-based resources is Child Care Aware
(http://www.naccrra.net/childcareaware/index.htm). Child Care Aware provides
parents with information on what high-quality child care is and helps them seek
high-quality child care in their communities. Child Care Aware's toll- free
parent information line (800-424-2246) and World Wide Web site help parents
locate resource and referral agencies in their community and provide information
about high- quality care. Checklists to assist families in measuring the quality
of a child care home or center and other materials are available in print and on
As this example indicates, the Internet, especially when coupled with other
modes of information dissemination, can be an effective mechanism for getting
out the message that high-quality child care is important to children, families,
and communities. There are, however, a number of challenges to providing
effective child care consumer education on the Internet. In designing online
strategies, consumer educators need to provide information that is:
* Responsive to the needs of families looking for high-quality child care and
presented from the consumer's point of view, with literacy and language needs
Families come in all sizes, with varying needs and desires for their
children's care. To be most responsive to families, "the language and thought
process of the parent seeking child care (i.e., the consumer) should inform the
design and delivery of consumer education" (Mitchell, Cooperstein, & Larner,
1992, p. 35). Currently, not all families who need child care information have
access to the Internet, and most consumer education resources on the Internet do
not reflect the diversity of the families seeking child care. However, efforts
are being made to provide access to the Internet in public spaces such as
libraries, and although the majority of the information available on the
Internet is in English, sites such as the National Parent Information Network
(NPIN) (http://npin.org/respar/texts/chldcare/deleasu.html) and the National
Network for Child Care (http://www.nncc.org/%20
Choose.Quality.Care/spanish.choose.html) provide materials for families in both
Spanish and English.
The sheer volume of child care consumer education information available on
the Internet, combined with the nonspecific nature of the material, may require
parents to invest a great deal of their time and resources in order to use the
available information effectively. Many families may not be able to spend hours
online seeking child care information or waiting for pages with large graphics
to download. Parents accessing Internet-based consumer education resources may
experience frustrations caused by basic technological difficulties, such as busy
signals, site transience, the disorganized nature of Internet search resources,
and lack of controlled indexes (Urr, 1995).
* Easy-to-find, continually updated, and well-publicized to the target
While child care information is abundant on the Internet, finding
community-specific information may be difficult. Parents seeking electronic
information may have to visit a large number of sites to get all the information
they need. One option for alerting information seekers to potentially useful Web
sites is to utilize online and offline marketing strategies. Announcements,
flyers, and other print resources used in the public awareness campaign should
refer families to useful Web sites.
The variety of organizations posting child care information on the Internet
also creates challenges for parents because each site is organized in a
different way with a different purpose in mind. Once families have located sites
that contain child care information, an effective information architecture is
the key to guiding information seekers to what they need within the Web site
(Davenport, 1997). Web sites may utilize marquee-style messages (one type of
Java applet) or linked graphics that guide users toward specific content areas
of the site. For example, the State of Ohio uses an eye-catching graphic
strategically placed on its main page (http://www.state.oh.us/) to point
families to state child care resources elsewhere on the site.
* One of many child care consumer education strategies used in a community.
Many state and local child care resource and referral agencies utilize the
Internet as an effective communication system for sharing information. Combining
the immediacy of information on the Internet with the timely, reliable
information available from these community-based agencies may provide the most
useful information for parents.
The California Child Care Resource and Referral Network
(http://www.rrnetwork.org) Web site provides information for parents such as
"Who to call for free help in finding child care in California," "Tips for
finding child care that works best for your family," resource and referral child
care data, and an index of the state-funded resource and referral agencies.
Initiatives for Children, Inc. (http://www.ini-children.org/) is a resource and
referral agency serving Houston and Southeast Texas. Initiatives for Children's
home page includes information on their services and facts about child care. It
also has an online form available for their referral services. Requests for
referrals can also be received by phone or fax.
Communities participating in the MOST Initiative (Making the Most of
Out-of-School Time) are also using the Internet to increase access to local
information. One of these, the Seattle MOST Initiative
(http://www.ci.seattle.wa.us/most/), used information from the local resource
and referral agency to create an Internet-based comprehensive database of
out-of-school time activities for children and youth. The online database can be
accessed at parent resource centers, schools, libraries, and community
organizations throughout the city. The database is available as free Windows
software and in a print version to agencies that serve families. In addition to
the database, the Seattle MOST Web site includes information about the need for
high-quality care for school-age children and links to child care and other
community databases. A parallel home page is available in Spanish
States are also using the Internet as one part of their strategy to meet the
needs of families. Many states have created successful Web sites that provide
families with information about child care subsidy programs, child care resource
and referral agencies in the state, lists of licensed and regulated child care
providers, and information on choosing high-quality child care. North Carolina
created a child care Web site titled "What Parents Should Know about Child Care"
(http://www.dhr.state.nc.us/DHR/DCD/parents.htm) that includes child care
resources and related information, including early intervention resources.
One of the most positive aspects of electronic
information dissemination is the ease with which information providers can link
with other sites to enhance and broaden the resources available to parents. The
fundamental task for consumer educators in providing child care consumer
education on the Internet consists of collecting useful information,
synthesizing it into a format that meets the needs of families, and presenting
it in a timely and interesting way to the user. To help families find needed
information easily, consumer educators might consider adopting standards for
site architecture and indexing/cataloging of sites.
The Internet provides the opportunity for families to access an enormous
amount of useful information. It also has obstacles and pitfalls around which a
family may have to maneuver in order to be successful in accessing child care
information. As more information is made available through this electronic
resource, we will need to continue to study, evaluate, and improve consumer
education initiatives to best meet the child care needs of all children and
their families--both online and off.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Child Care Action Campaign: (212)
Child Care Aware: (800) 424-2246;
Davenport, Thomas H. (1997). INFORMATION ECOLOGY: MASTERING THE INFORMATION
AND KNOWLEDGE ENVIRONMENT. New York: Oxford University Press.
I Am Your Child: (888) 447-3400; http://www.iamyourchild.org
Mitchell, Anne, Cooperstein, Emily, & Larner, Mary. (1992). CHILD CARE
CHOICES, CONSUMER EDUCATION AND LOW-INCOME FAMILIES. New York: National Center
for Children in Poverty, Columbia University. ED 357 836.
National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies: (202)
National Association for the Education of Young Children: (800) 424-2460;
National Association for Family Child Care: (800) 359-3817;
National Child Care Information Center: (800) 616-2242; http://nccic.org
National Institute on Out-of-School Time: (781) 283-2547;
Urr, Clifford. (1995). INTERNET BUSINESS APPLICATION: A WHITE PAPER. Reston,
VA: James Martin & Co.