What happens to our children now impacts all of us tomorrow. Kids grow up, and the care and education they receive in the first five years of life is a big determining factor in what type of citizens they will be. That is why the state of California unified all of the counties and created Quality Counts California (QCC), which sets quality as the new benchmark for early childcare and education.
Research shows that babies form over 90 percent of the brain connections that determine how they talk, think, and grow by the time they are five years old, and that high-quality child care given in those first five years produces improved life outcomes including higher education levels, better health, and stronger career opportunities.
One of the very best investments that California can make is providing access to high quality, affordable early childcare (0-5) and education, says Rossnina Dort, MA ECE, Director of Early Education Services at the Child Care Coordinating Council of Nevada County. “Nevada County is on board with the new benchmark for early childcare and education and we are reaching for gold! Quality childcare benefits society, helps families thrive and children succeed. When families have access to reliable, quality childcare, they can continue to work, have fewer absences and be more productive. The childcare sector also has a higher economic multiplier effect than many other sectors. Every dollar invested stimulates regional activity through hiring of staff and purchasing goods and services locally. This benefits our community through increased productivity of our current workforce and provides a stimulus effect on the economy. As for long-term effects, decades of research and longitudinal studies report children who receive quality childcare enter school with better math, language, and social skills. These skills give children improved quality of life outcomes throughout their entire lives. higher education levels, better health, and stronger career opportunities. Investing in early childhood enables these outcomes in the future while strengthening families and reducing child poverty immediately.”
Quality Counts California is funded by First 5 California and the CA Dept of Education. By signing the Budget Act of 2019, Governor Newsom builds on the work of First 5 CA by providing a historic level of funding of $5.3 billion for early childhood initiatives that will improve access to quality Early Learning for California’s young children and working families, as well as a focus on supporting parents to reduce child poverty and improving early childhood health and wellness. While that might seem like a lot of money, it has been proven that every dollar invested in quality early child care and education services saves $7 in special education, public assistance, corrections, and lost taxes. The rate of return for quality early childhood education is 10 percent per year. According to James Heckman, a Nobel laureate in economics who conducted a study in September, 2010, for the National Commission for Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Reform, an $8,000 investment at birth brings nearly an $800,000 return over the child’s life. “The rate of return for investment in quality early education for disadvantaged children is 7-10% per annum through better outcomes in education, health, sociability, economic productivity and reduced crime,” Heckman wrote.
Early Quality Matters
Quality Counts CA is a network of locally implemented quality rating and improvement systems. The Nevada County implementation ntation of this program, Early Quality Matters, is being overseen by the Nevada County Child Care Coordinating Council, a local planning council for childcare and development that brings together key stakeholders in the county to discuss legislation, conduct assessment of needs, and provide workforce development and childcare facility and quality improvements to support children and families. The council seeks to get input for all of the key stakeholders in the area, and the board includes Sierra Nevada Children’s Services (SNCS), First 5, Nevada County Superintendent of Schools, local colleges, state preschools, private family childcare, and the Board of Supervisors.
Early Quality Matters uses a statewide quality rating and improvement system (QRIS) to accomplish four things:
- Provide a consistent and research based criteria to define quality childcare
- Rate voluntary participant childcare programs according to these criteria
- Support participating childcare programs to improve their quality
- Communicate the ratings and who is participating to the community so that families can choose the best childcare provider for their child
“When we say we provide support, that means we provide participating sites with financial incentives to improve learning environments, attain higher ratings, and sustain long-term quality. We also provide professional development stipends for eligible staff to ensure that educators have the tools, training, and support necessary to prepare children for a lifetime of learning and success,” Dort explained. “This type of work goes above and beyond licensing. To do this takes involvement from the program and individual teachers. It is a lot, and the programs participating in this need to be supported. I want to do justice with the funds that First 5 and CDE is giving us and use it in the best, most responsible way that will have the greatest benefit to the children of Nevada County. I am working hard to make participating sites known to the community because they are going above and beyond in aiming for excellence in the care and education of our community’s children.”
Participation in the program is voluntary, a currently a little over half of the childcare programs in Nevada County have chosen to participate, which Dort says is huge compared to other counties. Each participating childcare program gets evaluated on a five star rating system. The elements of quality that are being graded are based on what research has determined matters most:
- Qualified teachers with specialized education and training in child development who engage every year in professional development to keep children engaged
- Promoting positive development
- Addressing concerns, and
- Working with parents to create learning experiences
Another item that is assessed is a facility’s curriculum. Dittos or worksheets are not going to cut it in this program; developmentally appropriate, researched based curriculum that guides teachers to provide learning activities that help every child in their program develop and support their ability to create, analyze, and reason are curriculum goals. Teachers are encouraged to get children outdoors with gardening and talking about how plants grow for tactile, experiential hands on learning.
Also considered is whether the facility has a safe and healthy environment where children can be active and experience learning through all five senses, and that there are materials that stimulate their curiosity and creativity. Finally, the program includes child observation, a tool to help guide teachers and parents to work together to support the children’s learning and development, and make sure they are doing so on track.
“Using QRIS is an organized way to continually assess, improve and communicate the level of quality of early care and education programs. It’s a way for programs to see areas of improvement and celebrate their accomplishments. Teachers often forget how their everyday actions are of high quality, such as: responding to children’s needs in a way that addresses their concerns, supporting their creativity, smiling and having conversations with them in a way that values their input. Assessments validate how teachers’ interactions with children are a core determinant of whether children develop the social-emotional and cognitive skills that help them succeed.,” Dort said. “QRIS helps parents by making it easy for them to see and identify child care programs that have committed to quality standards. Standards are high, reaching quality levels are long term and complex processes. We need to celebrate and support those programs that take part.”
Sierra Nevada Children’s Services (SNCS) is creating a new section on their website so that families can see which childcare providers are participating in the program and their current ratings. To put the five star rating system into perspective, a one star rating is licensed and a five star rating is achieving the highest benchmark possible. Dort says that a three or four star rating is phenomenal. Statewide, the facilities that have reached a level three are minimal. In Nevada County, we have 16% in Tier 3, 23% in Tier 4, and 26% in Tier 5. – The goal is for continuous improvement, continued education by the teachers and staff, and implementing the latest research about best childcare practices. “This is an exciting time for early childhood education. We are finally being proactive and doing something that can have a positive impact on our state’s entire population despite any individual’s political leanings,” Dort said. “This should not be divided by politics; this benefits every single person in the short term and the long term.”
To learn more, or to find a participating childcare program, visit sncs.org.