The Child Care Dilemma: Quality

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The fourth of a five-part series on child care as a public policy question, this CSG research brief highlights child care quality in the states, including initiatives to mea- sure and improve quality, and the development of a skilled early childhood education workforce. The prior three briefs in this series explored demographics of families with small children, affordability and access.

A few of the themes established in the prior briefs included:

  • In most states, there are fewer child care slots available than there are children under age 5. The state- by-state average for child care slots to number of children under age 5 was around 51 percent.1
  • The types of care available vary between states. In Minnesota, the majority of slots are in family care centers, where the provider delivers care out of his or her home; in many states, though, child care centers are the dominant setting.2
  • On average, child care workers in 2014 made between $18,090 and $26,470 a year.3
  • There are several options for making care more affordable and accessible for low-income families, such as state-administered subsidies, Head Start and Early Head Start programs, and state-run pre- kindergarten programs. Of the 42 states with state- run pre-K programs in 2015, only 18 decreased their funding, while the rest reported increased spending.4 Federally funded program capacity ranges from almost 20 percent of children under 5 in the District of Columbia to less than 6 percent in Maryland, Nevada and Utah, assuming no program overlap between Child Care Development Fund and Head Start programs.5
  • The demand for these subsidized child care programs exceeds supply in some states. For the 21 states that manage statewide waiting lists for child care assistance, the average number of individuals on state waiting lists was 10,725. New Mexico and Colorado had the shortest lists, with 126 and 45 entries, respectively.6

The Case for Quality
Numerous studies examine the impact of early child- hood education on development, adding another dimension to the value of child care.7 More than just a safe place for kids to spend their day while guardians are at work or school, early childhood education may contribute to future success and wellbeing, especially for children growing up in low-income households.8 Some policymakers view early childhood education as an opportunity to develop the future workforce and create a more independent, self-sustaining and productive population, associating a strong return on investment in quality early childhood education.9,  10

Not all child care and early childhood education environments are created equal, however. With the fast rate of brain development early in life, experts emphasize the importance of high-quality education programs, care and staff. High-quality early child- hood education programs have positive impacts on a variety of areas for children. The level of exposure to quality early childhood education experiences—in half-day or full-day programs, for example—is also an important feature.11

According to Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child, researchers generally think of factors associated with these programs including
(1)    highly skilled teachers;
(2)    small class sizes and high adult-to-child ratios;
(3)    age-appropriate curricula and stimulating materials in a safe physical setting;
(4)    a language-rich environment;
(5)    warm, responsive interactions between staff and children; and
(6)    high and consistent levels of child participation.”12

The 2014 re-authorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant included provisions not only for health and safety, licensing, child-to-provider ratio, and emergency preparedness state policies, but also quality improvement initiatives.13 A portion of the CCDF grant must be used for quality improvement efforts, such as evaluation systems and professional development for child care providers.

 
Licensing, Minimum Requirements
In order to operate a child care facility, the states have established minimum licensing requirements. States regulate the child-to-staff ratio, group size, required background checks, staff qualifications and ongoing training hours required for licensed child care services. Many of these policies are age and setting specific.

As children get older, the allowed maximum number of children per caregiver goes up. For infants up to 11 months of age, states’ regulations require a range in the maximum from three to six children per staff member.14 The National Association for the Education of Young Children, or NAEYC, accreditation criteria uses ratios for staff to infants up to 15 months of 1:3 and 1:4, depending on group size.15 For older children, the range increases in state policy—centers can have between four and 12 toddlers, or children between 11 and 35 months old, and between seven and 15 pre-schoolers per staff member.16 NAEYC accreditation cites between three and six toddlers per teacher, depending on age and group size, and between six and 10 preschoolers to a  teacher.17

There is a more complex picture for state require- ments for background checks of those working in  child care settings. States check some combination of criminal history, the state sex offender registry, and  the child abuse and neglect registry. In the four states that do not require criminal history records for child care center employees—Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota and Wyoming—two states, Nebraska and Wyoming, do require these background checks for family child care homes and group child care homes.18 Fifteen states do not require sex offender registry checks for child care centers, and four do not require child abuse and neglect registry checks for employees in the child care center setting.19 There is inconsistency between back- ground check requirements among settings; there are some states that do require certain checks in one set- ting but not the other. For instance, in Minnesota, a  sex offender registry check is required for the child care center setting, but not licensed family child care homes.20
States also have different standards for preservice qualifications for various staff roles across settings. Of the 17 states that have no requirements for family child care home providers, 13 have requirements for teachers in child care centers—four of which require a high school diploma for child care center teachers.21 To be a child care center teacher, only 18 states have minimum certificates, degrees or educational program requirements that are above and beyond a high school diploma.22 Of the other 32 states and the District of Columbia, 10 states have no minimum requirements.23 The rest require some combination of on-the-job training, experience or a high school diploma. In 30 states, child care center directors are required to obtain some form of certificate, degree or take formal relevant coursework in order to receive licensing.24

While there is not always consistency across settings, the majority of states have some sort of ongoing training requirement for teachers, directors and providers working out of homes. Most states have an absolute hourly training requirement for teachers and directors. In Minnesota and Connecticut, the number of hours required for teachers and directors at child care centers is a percentage of hours worked per year. In Connecticut, where the training require- ment is 1 percent of annual hours worked, this would work out to be 20 hours a year for a teacher, assuming 40 hours per week with two weeks off. In Ohio, there is a cap—teachers have to complete 15 hours a year of continuing education training until they meet 45 total hours (effectively after three years).

 

Evaluating and Incentivizing Quality

There are 38 states that have Quality Rating Improvement Systems, or QRIS, in place to measure the quality of child care providers against a set of standards and incentivize improvement. There are many QRIS types across the United States.25 According to QRIS Compendium, popular indicators used include ratios, health and safety, curriculum, child assessment, environment, interactions, staff qualifications/training, program administration/leadership, accreditation, family engage- ment, cultural and linguistic diversity, community involvement, provision for children with special needs, and continuous quality improvement.26 Of these, only cultural and linguistic diversity and community involve- ment indicators were present in less than half of states’ QRIS standards.27 Participation in these programs may be voluntary or mandated by funding stream.

The vast majority of the state systems use an observational tool (or tools), the most popular of which are Environment Rating Scales, or ERS, and Classroom Assessment Scoring System, or CLASS, for center-based early childhood education.28 The former assessment tool uses seven criteria groups, focusing on the child’s surroundings, routine, activities and engagement with staff.29 The latter focuses on teacher-child interactions.30

The QRIS rating systems have between three and six levels, with varying degrees of participation. Illinois, Massachusetts and North Carolina have the highest number of programs participating. Illinois leads by far, with more participants than the next two states combined. The rating is valid anywhere from one year to five years, depending on the state, with one exception— in Oklahoma, the rating does not expire.31

Only two states—Rhode Island and Virginia—do not have financial incentives tied to their quality rating systems at the state level. Some states only have financial incentives in the form of tiered child care reim- bursement rates or other financial incentives for quality ratings, and many states have both types of incentives. Incentives can also come in the form of professional development, scholarships, technical assistance, and reimbursing accreditation or reducing licensing fees. In Maryland, staff can receive monetary bonuses for achievement in the Credential Program, which rewards professional development and formal educational attainment; QRIS participants also can take advantage of vendor discounts through the Maryland Excellence Counts in Early Learning and School-Age Care Program, and receive reimbursement for accreditation, curriculum, training and professional development.32

Of the states with QRIS programs, only four states— Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nevada and North Dakota reported QRIS systems that did not have public awareness campaigns targeting the public or parents as of 2015 to spread the word about their QRIS rat- ing systems.33 However, of these four states, all but Massachusetts still had QRIS information available on a searchable provider database that parents can access online. The vast majority of QRIS programs used several means through which to publicize their rating systems, such as websites, media advertising or community events.

Evaluating and Incentivizing Quality
There are 38 states that have Quality Rating Improve- ment Systems, or QRIS, in place to measure the quality of child care providers against a set of standards and incentivize improvement. There are many QRIS types across the United States.25 According to QRIS Com- pendium, popular indicators used include ratios, health and safety, curriculum, child assessment, environment, interactions, staff qualifications/training, program administration/leadership, accreditation, family engage- ment, cultural and linguistic diversity, community involvement, provision for children with special needs, and continuous quality improvement.26 Of these, only cultural and linguistic diversity and community involve- ment indicators were present in less than half of states’ QRIS standards.27 Participation in these programs may be voluntary or mandated by funding   stream.

The vast majority of the state systems use an observa- tional tool (or tools), the most popular of which are Environment Rating Scales, or ERS, and Classroom Assessment Scoring System, or CLASS, for center- based early childhood education.28 The former assess- ment tool uses seven criteria groups, focusing on the child’s surroundings, routine, activities and engagement with staff.29 The latter focuses on teacher-child interactions.30

The QRIS rating systems have between three and six levels, with varying degrees of participation. Illinois, Massachusetts and North Carolina have the highest number of programs participating. Illinois leads by far, with more participants than the next two states combined. The rating is valid anywhere from one year to five years, depending on the state, with one exception— in Oklahoma, the rating does not expire.31

Only two states—Rhode Island and Virginia—do not have financial incentives tied to their quality rating systems at the state level. Some states only have financial incentives in the form of tiered child care reimbursement rates or other financial incentives for quality ratings, and many states have both types of incentives. Incentives can also come in the form of professional development, scholarships, technical assistance, and reimbursing accreditation or reducing licensing fees. In Maryland, staff can receive monetary bonuses for achievement in the Credential Program, which rewards professional development and formal educational attainment; QRIS participants also can take advantage of vendor discounts through the Maryland Excellence Counts in Early Learning and School-Age Care Program, and receive reimbursement for accreditation, curriculum, training and professional development.32

Of the states with QRIS programs, only four states— Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nevada and North Dakota—reported QRIS systems that did not have public awareness campaigns targeting the public or parents as of 2015 to spread the word about their QRIS rating systems.33 However, of these four states, all but Massachusetts still had QRIS information available on a searchable provider database that parents can access online. The vast majority of QRIS programs used several means through which to publicize their rating systems, such as websites, media advertising or community events.

Other briefs in this series:

  • Affordability. How much does child care cost in each state, before and after subsidies?
  • Availability and Access. How many slots are available per child in each state, and how can families find quality options?
  • Quality. How are states managing certification requirements, assessing quality and developing the child care workforce?
  • Implications for the Workforce. What are the economic costs of child care for families? We take a look at what the cost of child care could mean for parents in the workforce and the innovative ways states are tackling the issue in their communities.

Resources
1 Author’s calculations, based on data from Child Care Aware State Fact Sheets and the U.S. Census ACS 2014 estimates. http://www.usa.childcareaware.org/advocacy-public-policy/resources/repor....
2 Child Care Aware of America. 2015 State Fact Sheets, data collected represents 2014. http://www.usa.childcareaware.org/advocacy-public-policy/resources/repor....
3 Ibid.
4 National Institute for Early Education Research. “The State of Preschool 2015: State Preschool Yearbook Executive Overview.” Pg 18. http://nieer.org/sites/nieer/files/Executive%20Summary%202015.pdf.
5 Calculated by author from publicly available data from U.S. Census ACS 2014 Estimates, National Head Start Association State Fact Sheets, and Office of Child Care CCDF Statistics; assumes no program overlap. All data from   2014.
6 Schulman, Karen; Blank, Helen. National Women’s Law Center. “Building Blocks: State Child Care Assistance Policies 2015.” Table 2: Waiting Lists for Child Care Assistance.  Pg  26.  https://nwlc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/CC_RP_Building_Blocks_Assist....
7 Examples include: National Research Council and Institute of Medicine (2000) From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development. Jack P. Shonkoff and Deborah A. Phillips, eds. Board on Children, Youth, and Families, Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. https://www.nap.edu/catalog/9824/from-neurons-to-neighborhoods-the-scien.... Wein, Harrison. National Institutes of Health. “Early Childhood Program Has Enduring Benefits.” June 20, 2011. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/early-childhood-pro....
8 Wein, Harrison. NIH Research Matters. National Institutes of Health. “Early Child- hood Program Has Enduring Benefits.” 2011. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/early-childhood-pro....
9 Heckman, James, Pinto, Rodrigo, and Savelyev, Peter. “Understanding the Mechanisms Through Which an Influential Early Childhood Program Boosted Adult Outcomes.” The American Economic Review 103.6 (2013): 2052-086.   Web.
10 Center on the Developing Child (2007). Early Childhood Program Effectiveness (InBrief). Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu. “Most of those returns, which can range from $4 to $9 per dollar invested, benefit the community through reduced crime, welfare, and educational remediation, as well as increased tax revenues on higher incomes for the participants of early childhood programs when they reach adulthood.”
11 Zaslow, M., Anderson, R., Redd, Z., Wessel, J., Tarullo, L. and Burchinal, M. (2010). Quality Dosage, Thresholds, and Features in Early Childhood Settings: A Review  of the Literature, OPRE 2011-5. Washington, D.C.: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/quality_ review_0.pdf.
12 Harvard University Center on the Developing Child. A Science-Based Framework for Early Childhood Policy. 2007. Pg 16. http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/a-science-based-framework-f....
13 U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Administration for Children & Families Office of Child Care. “Child Care and Development Block Grant Act (CCDBG) of 2014: Plain Language Summary of Statutory Changes.” November 18, 2014. http://www.acf.hhs.gov/occ/resource/ccdbg-of-2014-plain-language-summary....
14 U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children & Families Office of Child Care. Early Childhood Training & Technical Assistance System. Data Explorer & State Profiles. Accessed July 6, 2016. All licensing requirements are reported from the ECTTA system’s data set from the last year available (2013 and 2014), which predates the CCDF authorization. States may have made updates to these  licensing  requirements subsequently. https://childcareta.acf.hhs.gov/data.
15 National Association for the Education of Young Children. NAEYC Early Child- hood Program Standards and Accreditation Criteria & Guidance for Assessment. Pg 98. April 1, 2016. http://www.naeyc.org/files/academy/file/AllCriteriaDocu- ment.pdf.
16 U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Administration for Children & Families Office of Child Care. Early Childhood Training & Technical Assistance System. Data Explorer & State Profiles. Accessed July 6, 2016. https://childcareta.acf.hhs. gov/data.
17 Ibid. Group size and age play a role in the   recommendation.
18 U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Administration for Children & Families Office of Child Care. Early Childhood Training & Technical Assistance System. Data Explorer & State Profiles. Accessed July 6, 2016. Ohio does not license family child care homes, and does not require a criminal history record for group child care. South Dakota does not license either of these settings. https://childcareta. acf.hhs.gov/data.
19 Ibid.
20 Ibid.
21 Ibid.
22 Ibid.
23 Ibid.
24 Ibid.
25 The Build Initiative & Child Trends. A Catalog and Comparison of Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) [Data System]. Retrieved from http://qriscom- pendium.org/ on July 7, 2016. Data updated as of October 31, 2015. All data on QRIS systems described and analyzed accessed from the QRIS Compendium website or data queried from the report generation  tool.
26 Ibid.
27 Ibid.
28 Ibid.
29 Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Overview of the Subscales and Items of the ECERS-R. http://ers.fpg. unc.edu/c-overview-subscales-and-items-ecers-r.
30 Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning. Curry School of Education. University of Virginia. Measuring and Improving Teacher-Student Interactions in PK–12 Settings to Enhance Students’ Learning. http://curry.virginia.edu/uploads/ resourceLibrary/CLASS-MTP_PK-12_brief.pdf.
31 The Build Initiative & Child Trends. A Catalog and Comparison of Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) [Data System]. Retrieved from http://qriscom- pendium.org/ on July 7, 2016. Data updated as of October 31, 2015. All data on QRIS systems described and analyzed accessed from the QRIS Compendium website or data queried from the report generation  tool.
32 Ibid.
33 Ibid.
34 Websites: Bright & Early North Dakota, http://www.brightnd.org/program-part ners; Nevada Silver State Stars, http://www.nvsilverstatestars.org/search-for-care; Kentucky Child Care Provider Search, https://prdweb.chfs.ky.gov/kiccspublic/provider searchpublic.aspx; Massachusetts Child Care Search. Accessed August 9,  2016,
http://www.eec.state.ma.us/ChildCareSearch/EarlyEduMap.aspx.
35 See: Institute of Medicine’s report brief, “Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation,” April 1, 2015, http://www.national academies.org/hmd/Reports/2015/Birth-To-Eight.aspx; CSG Knowledge Center blog coverage of the Department of Education’s report on the same subject, June 17, 2016, http://knowledgecenter.csg.org/kc/content/department-education-report-hi... The UC-Berkeley Center for the Study of Child Care Employment’s Early Childhood Workforce Index and corresponding report, July 7, 2016, http://cscce.berkeley.edu/early-childhood-workforce-index/.
36 U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, U.S. Department of Education. “High-Quality Early Learning Settings Depend on a High-Quality Workforce: Low Compensation Undermines Quality.” June 2016. Pg 5, https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/ecd/ece_low_compensation_und... 10_2016_508.pdf.
37 Ibid. Pg 3.
38 Ibid. Pg 4.
39 Ibid. Pg 16. Author’s own analysis.
40 Ibid.
41 Ibid. Author’s own analysis. 42 Ibid. Author’s own analysis. 43 Ibid. Author’s own analysis.
44 U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Administration for Children & Families Office of Child Care. Early Childhood Training & Technical Assistance System. Data Explorer & State Profiles. Accessed July 6, 2016. Data current as of October 1, 2013,   https://childcareta.acf.hhs.gov/data.
45 Ibid.

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