Study: Indiana child-care ratings help inform parents, educate caregivers
James Elicker, a Purdue associate professor of human development and family studies, led an evaluation of Indiana's new four-level quality rating and improvement system, Paths to QUALITY, that is available to more than 4,200 child-care providers that care for more than 159,000 Hoosier children. He found that Indiana parents are using the new child-care quality rating system, and many participating child-care programs are improving their quality of care thanks to the program's resources. (Purdue University photo/Andrew Hancock)
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Indiana parents are giving high marks to the state's new child-care quality rating system, and many participating child-care programs are improving their quality of care thanks to the program's resources, reports a Purdue University study.
"A quality rating system like this depends on public awareness to be successful, and public awareness seems to be growing," said James Elicker, an associate professor of human development and family studies.
Elicker led the evaluation of Indiana's new four-level quality rating and improvement system that is available to more than 4,200 child-care providers that care for more than 159,000 Hoosier children. The study found the system to be an informative resource for parents, and it also encourages providers to improve their quality rating, which can lead to better child-care environments and child learning. Child-care providers also praised the mentoring opportunities coordinated by the state.
"Indiana's statewide rating system, which is similar to a hotel star rating system, is just a few years old, but it motivates various centers and providers to improve child care," Elicker said. "More than 2,100 providers have joined this voluntary system because they want to be recognized for their quality care, and those that aspire to improve are benefitting from the educational and mentoring opportunities available through the program."
Indiana's rating system, Paths to QUALITY, offers four rating levels for licensed child-care centers; licensed family home providers; and unlicensed, registered child-care ministries. Level 1 means that the provider meets the requirements for state licensing, which includes proper adult and child ratios, program development, and adherence to fire and safety guidelines. Levels 2 and 3 focus on improvements in facilities' physical environment and educational opportunities, respectively. Level 4, the highest level, includes national accreditation criteria, said Melanie Brizzi, child-care administrator of the Bureau of Child Care at the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, which oversees Paths to QUALITY.
"Indiana was among the first states to launch a statewide quality rating and improvement system because the quality of available early childhood programs is essential to Hoosier families," Brizzi said. "High-quality child care is an essential support that enables parents to work and children to succeed in school and life. A successful child-care program also supports the state's economic development by attracting businesses that are seeking quality care and educational opportunities for their employees' children."
Information about all child-care programs, including whether they participate in the rating system and their Paths to QUALITY level, is available at https://www.childcareindiana.org/childcareindiana/ptq.cfm
Paths to QUALITY is available in all 92 Indiana counties, and Elicker's research team presented their findings during a series of visits around the state this fall.
Some of their study's findings include:
* Parents can feel confident that the four level ratings are valid indicators of program quality.
* Parents reported they are using the quality rating system to make decisions about child-care options.
* Parents said they would consider paying more for higher-rated care.
* Child-care providers found the mentoring resources provided by the state to be especially helpful.
* Suggestions included making the criteria more rigorous for the higher levels.
"What we hear from providers - and the Purdue research project confirmed this - is that the mentoring available through Paths to QUALITY is valuable," said Pattie Ryan, deputy directory of the Indiana Association for Child Care Resource and Referral. "The mentors are both coaches and cheerleaders for the participating programs. If an individual program is interested in improving the physical environment or wants to adopt a new curriculum, then the mentors can help them set goals and develop a work plan to help them achieve their goals and improve their quality rating."
Elicker and his team, which were funded by the state, spent more than 1,200 hours observing in 314 selected classrooms and homes, as well as interviewing teachers and parents and assessing children's development. Their Paths to QUALITY evaluation report is available online at https://www.cfs.purdue.edu/cff/publications/publications.html
As part of the quality ratings program, an independent company assesses each program at least annually, and programs trying to improve their quality rating can request more frequent assessments. Participation is voluntary, and the high participation rate also shows the ratings system is beneficial, Elicker said.
More than 83,000 children are cared for in a Paths to QUALITY rated facility. There are 604 centers in Indiana, and 521 participate (about 85 percent), and of the 2,889 licensed homes, 1,579 participate (about 55 percent). About 10 percent - 80 of the 725 - of unlicensed, registered child-care ministries participate.
A statewide rating system is especially important as the number of licensed home providers and unlicensed, registered faith-based centers continue to grow, Elicker said.
"Paths to QUALITY enables child-care ministries to demonstrate that they can, if they choose, reach the same levels of quality as state-licensed centers," he said.
Paths to QUALITY was developed by the local child-care resource and referral agency, Early Childhood Alliance, in the Fort Wayne area, and it was replicated by 4C of Southern Indiana in the Evansville area before Indiana launched it statewide in 2008. It is supported by federal funds from the Department of Health and Human Services that are administered by the state.
This research was funded by Indiana's Family and Social Services Administration. Elicker presented findings from the study in November in Washington, D.C., at the Child Care Policy Research Consortium, and a related article is scheduled to appear in a future issue of the Early Education and Development journal. The research project team included research associates Karen Ruprecht and Carolyn Langill and graduate students Joellen Lewsader and Treshawn Anderson.
Elicker hopes to continue studying how the rating system helps child-care providers and directly affects children's long-term development.
Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: James Elicker, 765-494-2938, email@example.com
Pattie Ryan, 317-924-5202, ext. 219, firstname.lastname@example.org
Melanie Brizzi, 317-234-3313, email@example.com