HAMILTON, Ohio -- Amanda Gushurst is a child care provider with more than five years' experience and lots of happy families to vouch for her.
Still, she couldn’t help but feel nervous when she learned her Miss Amanda’s Daycare would have to get Step Up To Quality rated in order to keep serving families that receive Ohio child-care subsidies.
She watches children in her home as early as 6:30 a.m. and as late as 11:30 p.m. for parents who work second shift. Her only day off each week is Sunday. Gushurst worried the training she needed would take too much time away from her business and her own three children and that she might have to close.
Those concerns faded quickly after she attended a program by 4C for Children to learn what it would take to begin the state’s five-star quality rating process.
“I went to the class, and I was like, ‘we already do all this,’ ” Gushurst said. “It was just the papers.”
Gushurst submitted her paperwork after her last class with 4C and had her state inspection about six weeks later. She earned her first star soon after.
While that’s great news for Gushurst and the families she serves, there are hundreds of other child care providers across the region that are not yet star-rated. Providers that don’t get rated by July 2020 won’t be able to serve families that receive Ohio child-care subsidies.
“As we sit here today, there are over 11,000 children in our region that do not have even that first star level of quality,” said Vanessa Freytag, president and CEO of 4C for Children. “This is a huge issue for our community, and actually it’s a huge issue for employers.”
That’s because parents who receive Ohio child-care subsidies are working at jobs that don’t pay enough to cover the full costs of the child care they need so they can go to work.
“It really is at this point bordering on a crisis,” Freytag said.
‘Can it be done?’
The region has nearly 800 programs that need to be rated so they can continue to serve the families that depend upon them, Freytag said.
4C for Children has been offering training on evenings and weekends, she said, but still will probably only be able to help about 225 providers this year.
“Can it be done by the deadline? I don’t know that any of us know for sure,” she said.
The goal of the Step Up To Quality program is to ensure all children have access to quality child care and early childhood education. The state also requires daycares to be licensed, but the licensing is separate from the process that child-care operators must follow to get their centers star-rated, Freytag said.
“You can be licensed but not necessarily have the educational grounding piece,” she said.
State lawmakers several years ago passed a law that says any child-care provider that works with families and children that get child-care subsidies must have attained their first star in the Step Up to Quality program by June 30, 2020.
“It’s a very good law,” Freytag said. “When you look at the statistics, what you see is that children who are often in difficult circumstances economically are often in the programs that have no rating at all. This was a way to really push to make sure all child-care programs really take a hard look at the education piece and start working on it.”
Gushurst made some changes at her Miss Amanda’s Daycare after her training from 4C. Now all of her students have their own cubbies where they can hang their coats and keep their belongings. She rearranged her bookshelf with books aimed at the different ages of children she serves. And she placed information about resources for parents on bulletin boards at her daycare.
“Miss Amanda is an amazing child care provider,” Freytag said. “She is one of those that really persevered, found a way, asked questions and really set this goal for herself.”
‘What are we going to do with the kids?'
As much as child-care providers like Gushurst are getting educated about the looming Step Up to Quality deadline, the problem remains largely unknown among the thousands of parents who could be impacted, said Jean Bach, 4C for Children’s communications manager.
Nicole Smith has three children, and all have attended the star-rated Kids Plus Learning Center in North College Hill.
“They’ve taken tremendous care of my children,” said Smith, who works as a hospice aide. “I don’t worry about my kids when they’re there. I don’t feel like I have to call all day long.”
Smith receives child-care assistance through Hamilton County Job & Family Services but said she didn’t know much about the star-rating program until she started using the child-care center about five years ago. She’s relieved that her kids’ center already is star-rated, she said.
“It would definitely affect me,” Smith said of the looming 2020 deadline. “I couldn’t afford to lose my kids’ great care that they have with someone that I trust, and I can’t afford to lose my assistance.”
Smith said she would like to see parents get more information about the Step Up to Quality system and what it means to them and their child-care providers. Gushurst said she hopes other child-care providers will overcome their anxiety and begin the process to become star-rated.
“If you don’t think you can do it, it’s just papers. It is paperwork. And yes, papers are no fun. But 4C will stay after, will help you get through it,” she said.
After all, she added, kids and families throughout the Tri-State are counting on them.
“So what are we going to do with the kids?” Gushurst said. “Are we going to trust them with just some Joe Blow Shmoe down the street and pray that they’re OK? Or are they going to be in a state-funded, licensed, star-rated quality program that is monitored with the love and care that we all have?”
More information about Step Up to Quality is available online.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about childhood poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty .