Nonprofit begins rating area’s day-care centers
An independent nonprofit organization called Qualistar Early Learning is rating licensed child-care programs in Pitkin County. The system, which is the brainchild of 150 early childhood experts created, evaluates programs that serve children up through age 5. Kids First director Shirley Ritter said her program is excited about using the rating system because it allows an outside source to evaluate child care within the county. Already, Kids First is using it to help direct funding to meet its needs and to direct families to the programs that would suit them best.”The first time through, 2 percent [of the programs] get a four-star rating and 13 or 15 percent get a three-star rating,” Ritter said. “It definitely is the gold standard.”The review focuses on the salient aspects of child care, outlining the strengths and weaknesses of a program and showing where the most improvement can be made. “A lot of child care programs are over 10 hours a day to meet the needs of working parents, so it seems important to find out where these kids are spending their time,” Ritter said.Ritter said the evaluation does not test kids directly. Rather, it focuses on five components of care: learning environment, family partnerships, training and education, adult-to-child ratios and group size. It also looks at accreditation. A trained observer spends a few hours in each classroom looking at things like health and safety practices, language development opportunities and the physical environment. Family questionnaires and documentation from the program go toward an understanding of family partnership. The average level of education of those looking after children in a day-care center is part of the rating, as are the group sizes and adult-to-child ratios. It also matters if programs belong to a national accrediting agency such as the National Association of Education for Young Children and the National Association of Family Child Care. “When we talk to people, we stress that this is a tool, but it’s really only part of the picture,” Ritter said. “People still need to go visit, talk to the teachers. It’s all about that relationship, but it’s a tool we didn’t have before.”Though the star rating can be helpful to parents, Ritter says Kids First encourages parents to look at the entire Qualistar report, then call the program with any questions. That guides parents what to look for and what a specific child-care program may be working on in terms of improvement. Qualistar is a statewide nonprofit that will do the ratings annually, so changes will be as current as possible. Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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