Friday, January 30, 2009

Maryland Offers Child-Care Inspection Data Online

Maryland has joined Virginia in providing a searchable database of inspection reports from daycare and other child-care centers across the state.

According to The Washington Post:
Child-care providers in Maryland have mixed opinions about the new system, with some raising questions about accuracy and limitations. Each online report gives yes-or-no indicators of problems in 50 broad areas of regulation. But no details are included, so it can be difficult to assess a problem's severity. Parents seeking more information must phone or write licensing officials.

The state's new system was developed at virtually no cost because it was built with software the state already uses to help parents locate child care. I'm really glad it didn't cost much because the site is a usability disaster. I went there to look up a daycare I used in the past. On loading, instead of giving me a search box it gave an error message "Search timed out" Reloading gave me the query form. I did the search and couldn't find the next link, it is small and non-obvious. The search results are in no particular order, not by inspection date, provider, address (I searched on City and type of provider so those were all the same).

When I finally found the daycare I was looking for it was a chore to pull up the full report. the instructions (when was the last time you needed instructions to figure out how to pull up the full record from a search, could you imagine if Google were like that) said: Click on the number to the left of the record, and then click "View this record" at the bottom to see the details of the inspection.

So I clicked on the number, the screen flashed, some text momentarily appeared in the upper left then disappeared. I clicked a number of times to see if the text would stay or if there was a link at the bottom of that bit of text before I realized that at the bottom of the page, nowhere near the record, the link, or the ephemeral text was a "View this Record" link which gives the report.

Looking at the report was more bad news. under "License - General Requirements" my daycare had "No". In fact, it had no for all of them. There is no way they were that bad so it was back up to the top to figure out what No meant. Turns out, Instead of a standard chart where Yes means you pass, in this case, Yes means you fail (Yes means you were "out of compliance"). So, in reality, my daycare had passed everything and got very positive "No" ratings. How about making Yes be positive like everywhere else, or better yet, put the word "Pass" if they pass and "Fail" if they fail. It's only a couple of extra letters and it removes ambiguity.

Maryland's Childcare database

Virginia's childcare database

[where: Maryland]

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