Finding affordable and safe day care has become a major challenge for working parents. Recent studies show that child care now exceeds the annual median rent in almost half of all states, straining already tight budgets to the breaking point. But money means nothing if little Johnny or Judy doesn’t come home safely at day’s end. Serious inconsistencies in licensing, enforcement and training have created dangerous situations where thousands of kids are injured each year – some fatally – while in the care of othersIs There a Child Care Crisis in America? First, the stats: According to 2010 U.S. Census data, working parents march off nearly 11 million children under age 5 to child care every week in America. Roughly 40 percent of those are cared for by grandparents or other relatives, another 30 percent are dropped off at a child-care center, Head Start or preschool, and 15 percent go to a family home day care. On average, the children of these working parents spend 35 hours per week in child care.Next, the cost: In the 2012 Report Parents and the High Cost of Child Care, the annual tab for full-time child care for an infant averaged $4,600 to $15,000, depending on location. The bill for a four-year-old ranged from about $3,900 to nearly $11,700. “The cost of quality child care is in the range of what you'd pay for college,” said Richard M. Clifford, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the FPG Child Development Institute, in a recent article for Parents magazine.Now, the safety: We keep far better statistics on pro sports in America than we do on deaths and injuries in child-care settings. The most recent study – now almost 10 years old – documented 1,362 deaths in child care from 1985 to 2003. There are no federal reporting requirements for child care fatalities, and state reporting requirements vary widely.You might be even more surprised to hear that restaurants, beauty salons and even dog groomers are more regularly scrutinized by inspectors in some states than child care providers. According to a report from Child Care Aware, only eight states conduct inspections quarterly, and 21 once a year or less. Sixteen states either do not license small family child care homes (caring for six or fewer children) or do not conduct inspections prior to licensing.Training and licensing requirements also vary widely. For example, only 21 states insist that caregivers have any child-development training. And just eight states require comprehensive background checks for caregivers, including a review of sex-offender and child-abuse registries. Note too that not all child care providers carry liability insurance.Tools You Can Use to Choose Quality CareHere are some tips and resources to help you find the best possible care for your child:1) Start EarlyNo matter what type of services you’re looking for, it often takes time to get a child into any day care facility.2) Make a CallTalk to referral agencies and ask about licensing requirements, complaints, violations, financial assistance programs, etc.3) Visit and Ask QuestionsAsk about adult-to-child ratios, group size, caregiver qualifications, turnover and accreditation.4) Make an Informed ChoiceConsider all the options, pros and cons associated with various child care arrangements.5) Stay InvolvedYou and the caregivers are partners now. Remain an active participant in your child’s life at day care.