Parents of infants and younger children using child care on a regular basis will soon have another tool at their disposal when selecting a facility.
A three-star rating system for early learning and child care facilities, called Quality Rated, goes public July 1.
“There’s been really a shift within the child care area and industry over the past four or five years,” said Reg Griffin, chief communications officer with Bright from the Start in the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning. “This shift has been from just strictly child care, to providing education. That’s sort of based on research showing some of the greatest brain development occurs between birth and 5 years of age.”
The new quality rating system has been put into place to create an “approach to assess, improve and communicate the level of quality in early care and education programs,” Griffin said.
It will evaluate five standards, including staff qualifications, teacher and student ratios, child health, family partnerships and intentional teaching practices.
There are just more than 1,200 participating out of Georgia’s 6,000 licensed child care centers, and around 200 of those will have ratings available when the system goes live.
Griffin called the participation rate “encouraging.”
“It also shows that the commitment existed, and people wanted recognition,” he said.
Laura Johns, director of quality initiatives with DECAL, said she’s pleased with the level of participation, particularly among the smaller child care facilities. “It’s about DECAL bringing resources to them,” she said. “We have an amazing technical assistance program ... we provide all of the training at no cost to the center and the teachers.”
Friendship Learning Center, 4952 Lanier Islands Parkway in Buford, is one of the participating centers, and will have its star rating released next week.
“It’s different than an accreditation process,” explained operator Kasandra McDaniel. “They’ve adopted quality rating to be comparable for our child care programs with those in other states ... that have a five-star or quality-rated program that’s similar.”
Participation is currently voluntary. A child care facility develops a portfolio, which is reviewed by a panel. Then, members of that panel conduct an on-site visit. Based on the portfolio and the on-site observations, a rating of one, two or three stars is given.
DECAL Commissioner Bobby Cagle said there are currently no plans to make participation in the rating system mandatory.
“Actually, we’ve been more successful than any state I’m aware of in having a voluntary system,” he said, pointing out that approximately 20 percent of the providers are participating, a number he expects to continue to grow.
McDaniel said the rating system is a way to ensure that all child care programs are being judged and rated on the same, professional scale.
“(You are) able to see who’s really meeting all of these guidelines and rules, and who isn’t,” she said. “So parents can choose with confidence their child care provider.”
Along with it being voluntary, there are incentives for participating in the program, including technical assistance and professional development. Financial incentives range from $500 for a completed Quality Rated portfolio to bonus packages valued at anywhere from $4,000 to $6,000.
The idea of the Quality Rated system has been around since 2005, when education stakeholders across the state were surveyed by DECAL to collect what they believe are “quality indicators.”
Further research at that time was showing that many of Georgia’s day care centers, particularly the smaller programs, were scoring as “low quality” in sample tests DECAL was conducting.
“So through that research ... we were able to pare everything down to the five program standards, with about nine indicators under each standard,” Johns said.
Eligibility requirements for Quality Rated include a facility being licensed for one year, compliant with licensing registration rules and all staff members being registered in the Georgia Professional Development Registry.
Many of the participating facilities will remain unrated after July 1 as they work to improve standards prior to being rated.
DECAL plans to begin an extensive publicity campaign in July as well, informing parents that they now have another method to use in selecting a child care facility. As for Friendship Learning Center, it’s already a point of pride.
“We definitely already have our certificate displayed, and have it on our website so that parents know,” McDaniel said.
“We’re asking (child care facilities) to only come with one thing — a commitment to doing something more,” Johns said. “To go above and beyond compliance.”