360 Communities Child Care Aware working to promote Parent Aware

by Mischelle Ulrich
Special to Sun Thisweek
Dakota County Tribune

The first five years of life are crucial in the healthy cognitive development of a child. Many children spend a good portion of those first years in a child care setting, so it is important to help parents and providers develop strong child care programs to ensure children arrive at kindergarten prepared and ready to learn.

360 Communities Child Care Aware, a member of the Child Care Aware of Minnesota network, partners with child care providers, family, friend and neighbor caregivers and community organizations to promote the quality of child care in Dakota County. Our belief is that the entire community benefits when families are able to access high quality child care.

There are currently 871 licensed child care providers in Dakota County. This can make choosing a child care provider a daunting task for any parent and this decision can have lasting impacts on a child’s development.

A 2010 National Institute of Child Health and Human Development study found that the quality of child care in the first several years of life has a noticeable impact on a child’s cognitive development and academic achievement as far out as a decade later. The study, which followed over 1,300 children for more than 10 years, found that negative effects of poor child care endured through age 15.

Quality child care provides the educational foundation children need to be ready for school. To make it easier for parents to choose quality care and for providers to differentiate themselves to the public, Child Care Aware of Minnesota is rolling out a new tool to help empower parents across Minnesota to make good child care choices for their children. Parent Aware is a new four-star rating system that aims to provide parents with an objective tool to judge the quality of day care settings while, at the same time, enhancing the quality of child care in Minnesota.

When parents see the Parent Aware rating for a provider, they can be assured that the program has volunteered to have their program assessed using a number of proven quality indicators. Each star rating represents a level of training and best practices implementation achieved by a child care provider. If a provider has a one star rating, it does not mean they are a poor child care provider. Rather, it means they have begun the rating process and have demonstrated a commitment to quality child care. If a provider has a Parent Aware rating, it is a sign that they are ahead of the curve and are taking steps to ensure they are implementing the best practices to prepare young people for kindergarten.

For each star level, quality is measured in four areas:

• Physical health and well-being

• Teaching and relationships

• Assessment of child progress

• Teacher training and education

All participating programs have:

• Volunteered for extra, in-depth training

• Devoted themselves to strong, caring relationships with each child

• Adopted the latest approaches to keeping children’s learning on track

• Committed to daily activities and routines that help children learn and grow

• Placed a focus on children’s health and safety

Jackie Yernberg, early childhood director of Lighthouse Explorers Christian Child Care in Rosemount, says the process of obtaining a Parent Aware rating is hard work and a lengthy process, but it is worth it because parents, child care providers, and most importantly, children benefit.

“Without a shadow of a doubt, this process demonstrates quality early childhood programming,” Yernberg said. “Quality is measurable. It can be measured by positive staff-child interactions, the growth of children through developmental milestones, the pride the child-parent-teacher share when effort, achievements and affirmation are working hand-in-hand.”

Dakota County providers who are interested are encouraged to call me for more information at 952-985-4045. New groups of providers start every July and January. Watch for more information about Parent Aware in the coming months. Parents, if you currently have a child care provider, consider talking to them about Parent Aware if they are not yet rated. Everyone can learn more about Parent Aware at www.parentawareratings.org or by calling 888-291-9811.

Mischelle Ulrich is supervisor of 360 Communities Child Care Aware, a member of Child Care Aware of Minnesota. 360 Communities provides hope and support to people by engaging communities to prevent violence, ensure school success and promote long-term self-sufficiency. For more information about 360 Communities, visit 360Communities.org or call 952-985-5300. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.