By Lynda L. Jones
Governor Jim Doyle has a reason to smile this week, as his vision on child care reform continues to move in the direction that he has hoped. The governor has spoken on many child care changes over the past few years, one being a rating system, and a central location that would give parents and caregivers a place to go to and review daycare centers.
On Monday, Aug. 9, Department of Children and Families (DCF) Secretary Reggie Bicha announced $1.5 million in funding to provide training and technical assistance to improve the quality of care that Wisconsin children receive. DCF launched Young- Star, Wisconsin’s rating and improvement system. One of the first steps DCF is taking is to give child care providers the opportunity to improve their programs through training and technical assistance.
To gain a better understanding on why such a measure was sought after, Secretary Bicha sat down with The Milwaukee Courier exclusively, following the Monday’s press conference to discuss in more detail the department’s direction for the future of daycare in Wisconsin.
“What I want your readers to understand is that back when the W2 program replaced the Welfare System in Wisconsin, the idea was to put money into child care to aid parents in seeking employment and training. At the same time, the idea of these individuals also being candidates to work in daycare centers and even become child care providers also became an opportunity. The problem with this was the lack of training and structure available for these workers and providers, there weren’t any.” Bicha said.
“With YoungStar, we have taken an important step toward creating the kind of first-class child care system Wisconsin’s children deserve. By helping child care providers improve their programs, we help children develop and grow, improving their future and that of our state.” Bicha continued.
DCF is partnering with statewide child care organizations as well as two-and four-year colleges to provide training and technical assistance in twelve counties. This assistance will reach more than 5,000 early care providers, and the customized intensive support will reach approximately 200 child care programs to provide on-site support.
Many factors affect the quality of care; among these the education and training of child care providers is critical. YoungStar training and technical assistance will support providers with professional development opportunities, modeling of appropriate child/ adult interactions, advice on layout of child care setting, and connecting providers with community resources.
The launch of YoungStar continues DCF’s efforts to ensure that all families have access to high quality, affordable early care and education.
In two years DCF has rebuilt the foundation of child care by improving safety and reducing fraud. There have been more than 180 day care centers shut down due to fraud so far. YoungStar will build on that foundation linking child care quality to payments from the Wisconsin Shares program, making it easier for parents to choose the best care for their children, and helping child care providers improve.
Prior to these efforts, child care providers were all looked at as the same. There were no measures in place to rate or review a day care’s record of performance available for parents to have access to. There were no incentives to be a better or the best day care available.
“Now, parents will be able to compare, review and make the best decision from their child’s needs. The rating system will also allow for incentives for day care providers to be better.” Bicha added.
The rating system will provide financial incentives for centers to improve their ratings as well. For example, if your center begins with a 2 rating and improves to a 3, there is financial benefit attached, and the higher your rating the more financial incentive is given. This will be available hopefully in the months to come, it is called Tier Reimbursement. The department is also working toward being able to award centers with micro grants, small amounts of money that would help encourage providers to further improve their centers.
However, it is important for providers to realize that it is not up to the state to assist a center in renovations, or business oriented improvements. What providers can expect is guidance and information in addition to the training and technical support to improve.
There is already a website available for those providers interested in the training and technical assistance, http://dcf.wisconsin.gov/youngstar/training or contact DCF’s Child Care Information Center at 1- 800-362-7353.
Senator Lena Taylor, who showed her support of the department’s efforts by attending the press conference also shared her thoughts.
“I encourage providers to go to the website and rate their centers from the information from the site. Some providers have done this already, and have an idea of where they rate already based on the criteria provided at the site.”