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STAR ratings available for child care facilities

by Cynthia Taggart
| April 12, 2010 9:00 PM

When Laurie Klug needed child care for her son, who's now 13, she wanted someone with authority to tell her which centers were good and which ones to avoid. But no such person or agency existed.

The Child Care Resource Center at the Panhandle Health District offered information on what child care centers provided but could make no referrals. Laurie had to assess the information, check out the centers and trust her instinct.

Now the new IdahoSTARS Quality Rating and Improvement System for child care facilities will provide parents with a tool to help them choose the child care that's right for their family.

The system is voluntary. Child care centers and homes that choose to participate conduct a self-study, create an improvement plan and work to implement the plan over time. During the process, they request grants for needed improvements and then earn a one- to five-star rating.

"I would have felt much better about taking my son to day care if something like that had been available," said Klug, who now operates a small child care center, Precious Moments, in her Coeur d'Alene home. "Now a parent can look at this program and say, 'I want at least three stars for my child.'"

Klug volunteered her six-child center for QRIS in January after it first became available. She went through a voluntary accreditation process last year that cost her hundreds of dollars so her commitment to quality care was on record for parents to see. Now she wants to underscore that public commitment with stars next to her center's name.

"A few of the children are here because their parents looked to see who was accredited," Klug said. "Parents want to know who is committed to quality care. I want them to see my center is rated."

Idaho STARS works to improve delivery of child care services and quality of early childhood programs. The University of Idaho and Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children run the project. The state Dept. of Health and Welfare supplies the funding from the federal Child Care Development Block Grant.

QRIS goals are to improve the quality of child care and to reduce child abuse and neglect by strengthening families through education and connections to community resources.

QRIS participation is free for child care centers that participate in the Idaho STARS Professional Development System. The system promotes continuing education and training for child care providers.

But child care facilities still pay with time. The assessment process is work, and centers must be licensed, either through the city they're in if licensing is available or through the state.

Child care facilities request a STAR rating based on eight different standards: environment, current education of the director and staff, on-going professional development, inclusion of children, programs to strengthen families, ratio, group size and business practices.

The star rating will provide Panhandle Health District's Child Care Resource Center with more information to give parents who seek help finding the right child care, says Jennifer Ross, director of the PHD program.

Participation in the program is voluntary, but Idaho STARS provides incentives such as scholarships for training, college classes and mentoring. Facilities apply for grants based on their improvement plans and earn a QRIS Achievement Award with their initial STAR Rating.

"Why wouldn't a center want to participate?" said Barbi Harrison, administrator and director of Christ the King Child Development Center in Coeur d'Alene. "The whole process made us so much stronger."

Harrison is the president of the North Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children. She volunteered her center for the QRIS pilot program. Christ the King is a large center with 107 children and 20 people on staff.

"I definitely believe in quality care for all children," Harrison said. "I wanted our center to be a role model."

The QRIS process helped Harrison identify the strengths of her center and make plans for specific improvement.

"It was good to participate," Harrison said. "Everyone believes they're doing a good job already, so it's good to have a third party in to help us strengthen areas we may need to improve on."

She was able to complete her playground with new equipment and pea gravel for safety. She added special doorknobs for children with disabilities and purchased dolls to help teach children diversity. She strengthened her center's business policies.

"It made us stronger," she said. "It's a lot of work, but I feel good about it."

Harrison's next step is the star rating. She's waiting now to find out what rating her center has earned. Ross, the Child Care Resources Center program manager at the Panhandle Health District, said the QRIS star ratings will be available to families who request child care referrals through PHD.

QRIS promotes continuous improvement, so even centers that earn four or five stars are encouraged to keep improving. The star rating lasts three years and then must be renewed.

For information on the QRIS program, call Jennifer Ross at 415-5145.

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