Better child care "in the stars" for Alabama families -, GA News Weather & Sports

Better child care "in the stars" for Alabama families

Source: MGN Online Source: MGN Online

North Alabama child care centers have started a program that will eventually offer "star" scores ranking which of them provide higher, or lower, quality care.

On Thursday, teams from the state Department of Human Resources held orientation and training with area child care providers for a pilot program of the Alabama "Quality Stars" initiative. The plan will eventually provide scores, of one to five stars, to rank care facilities. "It's similar to, if you think about a restaurant or a hotel star system, they rate them one star, two stars, three stars," explained Cecile Komara Pilot Program Manager and Assistant Professor at the University of Alabama.

It can be important information for the state's parents. "Research has shown us that the professional level of a staff has a great impact on the children and how the children are learning in a center and how they're progressing," said Jeanetta Green with the Department of Human Resources,  "even as young as infants and toddlers."

It is also information parents currently lack.  While other states have adopted Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) and quantifying the level of service daycares provide, Alabama simply licenses providers based on whether they meet the state's minimum standards. The state's new QRIS system, "Quality Stars" will evaluate child care centers based on their learning environments, curricula, training, development for their staff and inclusion of parents, and assign each facility a good-better-best ranking measured in number of stars.

In the pilot program, 50 volunteer child care centers will allow themselves to be evaluated, a process that will season the state's corps of evaluators but also give the providers an idea of what the state will be looking for and where they could improve. While some of the program's criteria may seem obvious to parents, officials said others, especially management and administrative practices, may not even occur to parents but can be crucial considerations that affect the very survival of a child care business.

"As well as being great places for young children to learn and to grow up," said Green, "they also have to be places where they're competitive in the market place so they can withstand any of the market changes and still be there when the parents need them."

Participation in the pilot program, and in the "Quality Stars" program itself, will be voluntary. Human Resources officials think daycares will want to be involved because a Quality Stars star rating can become a selling point facilities can use to promote themselves.  "Parents start to look for that," said Green. "When they're making their child care decisions then they're asking about the star system. They're asking ‘what are your stars?' ‘Are you participating in that?'" 

The Quality Stars pilot program is scheduled to run from November until June. The state plans to apply, it statewide to upwards of 1,000 child care providers, as many as agree to participate, starting next fall.

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