FAIRFIELD, Ohio — Thousands of working parents across Greater Cincinnati have one less thing to worry about.
Hundreds of local child care providers have become star-rated under the state of Ohio’s Step Up To Quality ratings system, and they've done it well ahead of a June 30, 2020 deadline.
Just over a year ago, only about 25% of family child care providers in Southwest Ohio were star-rated, according to data compiled by the advocacy organization 4C for Children.
That number has soared to nearly 80%, said Vanessa Freytag, 4C for Children’s president and CEO.
“For parents, this means that they can have consistency, that their child can stay in the child care program that they’re in," Freytag said. "We all know that consistency is very important to child growth. Now we have to help the rest.”
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 requires day cares to be licensed, but the licensing is separate from the process that child-care operators must follow to get their centers star-rated.
State lawmakers several years ago passed a law that says any child-care provider that works with families and children and receives state child-care subsidies must have obtained their first star in the Step Up To Quality program by June 30, 2020.
Those subsidies are critically important to many working families, Freytag said.
“The reality is that a year of child care costs about the same as a year of college at a public institution in the state of Ohio,” she said, adding that parents getting assistance from the state can end up paying anywhere from $20 per week to $50 per week for child care. “As a parent’s income level rises, the help from the state tapers off.”
The goal of the June 30 deadline is to ensure that children from lower income families don’t get lower-quality care, something child care provider Angie Glover said she strongly supports.
“You can’t put a price on education, and you should not put children in certain categories, because everybody needs to be where they can be taught at the same level,” said Glover, the owner of Caring Hearts for Future Generations child care center in Fairfield. “I have a major passion for that, where I want to make sure everybody gets what they need, not based on their income.”
When ‘down time’ doesn’t come until 11 p.m.
Glover said she first heard about the Step Up To Quality program about three years ago and sought advice from 4C.
The organization made the training process less intimidating, she said, and Glover has had her star rating for about two years.
“Making the time for the training, I’ll say, was the toughest part, and that’s because I have a busy schedule,” she said.
Freytag said that’s true of many child care providers, especially those who care for children in their homes, as Glover does.
“Many child care providers, the only time they really have to work on their quality could be 11 o’clock at night, when everyone’s gone to bed, they’ve got their paperwork done and all of that,” she said.
Recognizing that, 4C for Children developed new strategies to help child care providers get the training they needed, she said.
For example, 4C developed an interactive online training tool and even uses Facebook Live for some of its programs if child care providers can’t make it to a training site in person.
The organization’s Step Up Express uses a “cohort method,” where child care providers can get intense training in groups.
“Within a day, if you do all the homework leading up to it — which wonderful providers like Angie do — at the end of that day you are able to request your ratings visit from the state,” Freytag said.
That essentially condensed a year’s worth of training into days or even hours for groups of providers at a time.
“It’s just been exciting to see the excitement in the eyes of the providers,” Freytag said. “Many, many of them really weren’t sure if they could get there. We knew they could if we did all that we could to support them along the way.”
‘We need to educate them’
4C for Children has gotten donations from individuals and foundations as well as some funding from the state of Ohio to help offset the training costs for providers, Freytag said.
“That was instrumental in also changing the trajectory of this quality climb that the providers have to make,” she said.
Glover cares for six children ranging in age from seven months to 5 years old at her in-home child care center. Although none of them currently qualifies for government subsidies, she said she wants to be able to care for children whose families do get help from the state.
“I have a passion for wanting to educate them,” she said. “A lot of children don’t know the difference between a letter and a number. Parents call them by nicknames, and they go to school thinking that nickname is their name. We need to educate them. That’s not working for me.”
That passion came through as she reviewed flashcards with the toddlers in her care one recent afternoon. All three children knew “f” was for frog and that “e” was for elephant.
And when it came time to review their shapes, they knew the difference between a square and a parallelogram, too.
It’s the kind of educational quality state leaders had in mind for all the state's children when they launched the Step Up To Quality program in the first place, Freytag said.
“The state of Ohio is ensuring that our children are getting the best care possible,” she said.
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 reach Lucy, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.