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Picking the best day care a parental priority
Streamlined process in the works for evaluating top child care sites in Ga.
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Kids play Friday at First Presbyterian Church Child Development Center in Gainesville. Playground equipment costs big money, and meeting rating criteria can take time. First Presbyterian spent two years qualifying for its one-star rating from the voluntary Quality Rated organization. - photo by NAT GURLEY

What is Quality Rated?

The program implemented by the state’s Department of Early Care and Learning grades child care and other early learning programs who take part by standards “that exceed the state’s licensing requirements.” According to the website, here is how it works:

• Based on the results of a rigorous application process, programs are awarded one, two or three stars. A star rating indicates a higher quality program.

• Stars are awarded based on a combination of points gathered from an independent observation and a portfolio that demonstrates that the program meets standards beyond what licensing requires.

• The number of stars reflects scores above certain levels.

After two years of paperwork, a star has landed in Gainesville.

First Presbyterian Church Child Development Center, a participant in the state’s Quality Rated child care program, was awarded in June a single star in the three-star system.

The voluntary program from the state Department of Early Care and Learning rates child care and early learning programs on a number of criteria and assigns a rating.

First Presbyterian represents one of four Quality Rated programs in Hall County (Winnford Academy, Discovery Point and Friendship Learning Center are the others), with 12 of the county’s 70 child care centers taking part in the process.

And if Curriculum Director Kim Yarrington had known the amount of paperwork required, that number might be smaller.

“We probably would not have participated had we known how time-consuming it would be,” she said.

While Yarrington said she believes there are benefits in volunteering to be in this system, the effort can be taxing when also caring for more than 100 children.

“You’re still doing the day-to-day running of your business and trying to meet their demands as well as with the paperwork and training and everything else,” she said.

Quality Rated Director Pam Stevens is hearing these same concerns from others. Through focus groups, Stevens said she hopes to find a way to simplify the process while maintaining standards.

“Until you know how it’s experienced on their end, you kind of don’t know which way to go,” she said. “We’re listening to our providers, and they’re helping us design a more streamlined program.”

While Stevens couldn’t disclose specific details, she said one thrust of a revised program would include new ways of allowing day cares to showcase their quality.

Quality ratings have been public for a year now, with growing exposure for parents seeking child care. All ratings and day care inspection reports are listed at under the “Find a Provider” section.

The twofold strategy, Stevens said, is to improve the quality of care and offer parents essential information.

“We’re going to be able to communicate to parents what quality looks like, because you can’t expect a parent to walk into a center — a parent who is not an educator — and know what they should be looking for,” she said.

Quality Rated looks at the education of the staff, training hours, nutrition and other factors. Once basic health and safety standards are met, the rating group seeks centers that go beyond those thresholds.

Each day care is inspected twice per year, unannounced. A consultant will ensure the health and safety standards for the children attending, and afterward set an action plan to fix any violations.

“I think that’s what makes this agency a little unusual,” said Reg Griffin, DECAL’s chief communications officer. “I’ve yet to get a ticket from a state patrolman who might say, ‘Here’s what you did wrong, and let’s work on this for the next couple of weeks.’ (Consultants) actually take time to do that.”

Case puts focus on care

The high-profile criminal proceedings involving a Clermont day care center have put similar child care institutions in the spotlight. In one month’s time, Discovering Basics has gone from a day care of 21 to an empty building alongside Cleveland Highway after a toddler allegedly was burned by hot water at the center June 13.

Friday, owner Sue Dupree of Gainesville had her criminal case of influencing testimony moved on to Superior Court. The license for her day care was revoked. From information gathered by investigators, neither Dupree nor her daughter and site manager Tara Miller were present when investigators believe the injury occurred.

As referenced by Hall County Sheriff’s Office investigator Angela Miller in the hearing, Discovering Basics previously was cited by DECAL for low water temperature.

In the same visit by DECAL on Sept. 4, 2013, the consultant also determined that Discovering Basics had not properly documented “work addresses and addresses for release person” for four children. Records also indicated an asthma medication dispensed beyond the allowable period, according to documents on the DECAL website, without a physician’s note.

The center also needed another staff person for the 2- and 3-year-old group to satisfy the staff-child ratio, according to the documents.

Dupree called the water at the center “lukewarm” in her interview with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, Angela Miller said. After serving a search warrant on Discovering Basics, investigators found water in a slow cooker heated to 161 degrees; hot water from the infants’ room’s tap was 135 degrees.

Quality Rated expands

Entering its third year, Quality Rated now has around 30 percent of all Georgia day care centers participating in the program, though only 17 percent in Hall County. Because the first five years of a child’s life are so crucial in mental development, both Griffin and Stevens said they would love to see more participation.

“We want to see a high-quality child care program that’s not only taking care of your child during the day and ensuring their basic health and safety, but is also providing a foundational, educational high-quality program that prepares them for their education,” Griffin said.

With the star award being so new, Yarrington said she has not seen any significant uptick in parents looking to take their child to the First Presbyterian day care. But Stevens said she is beginning to track some of these trends across the state.

“We’re hearing out in the communities that parents are starting to ask about it,” she said.

Yarrington said she hopes fellow day care centers take up the process because of the training involved.

“I do think everyone has learned a lot, and I do think it would be beneficial for any center in town to go through this whether you’re large or small,” she said.

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