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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Heather Moss: Our agency is committed to supporting child-care providers

By Heather Moss Department of Children, Youth, and Families

Children who spend time in high-quality child care have lasting benefits from the experience. Research indicates that children who receive high-quality early learning have better cognitive, language, emotional and social skills as they grow older. Additionally, research shows these children require less special education, progress further in school, have fewer interactions with the justice system, and have higher earnings as adults.

Washington state has a mixed-delivery early learning system representing different types of providers including family home, center and school age programs. Our state also offers multiple early learning programs such as Montessori, Waldorf, ECEAP and Head Start. The mixed-delivery early learning programs offer a variety of settings, such as homes, school districts, nonprofit and for-profit entities. While parents are choosing what type of provider, program and setting will meet their child’s needs, the Department of Children, Youth, and Families is making sure that ALL Washington children have equitable access to services that are high quality, safe and healthy. We do that by promoting an adequate supply of care, ensuring our rules reflect best practices in health and safety, and supporting our providers as professionals.

Family home providers are a valuable and respected part of the state mixed-delivery early learning system. Many parents prefer the family home setting for their children due to the unique residential environment enhanced with early learning education and the option of more non-standard hours. There are 3,383 family home providers in our state serving 33,369 children from infancy to 13 years of age. For the last 5 years, our state has seen a decrease of 15% in the number of family home child care programs. This decrease of family home providers is also a national trend, but we are proactively working to address the decline here in Washington. DCYF is collaborating with Service Employees International Union 925 to ensure family home providers have consistent state and union supports. The Imagine Institute is providing ongoing trainings relevant to family home providers’ needs. We’ve established a bank of qualified substitutes so family home providers can take college classes or participate in trainings during working hours. We offer stipends and cash grants to support providers’ education and business needs. Child Care Aware of Washington supports family home providers across the state through training, technical assistance, coaching and consultation services, all leading to high-quality care for children. Together, our system is committed to stabilizing the supply of family home providers.

In 2015, DCYF recognized our child care licensing rules were outdated, disorganized and internally conflicting. We embarked on an inclusive process, called Negotiated Rule Making, with family home providers and other stakeholders to review and update our state’s child care licensing rules. The updated rules are a product of a collaborative 4-year effort by representatives of all Washington providers. Thousands of providers, stakeholders, parents and early learning partners provided their input, feedback and public comments to draft the aligned rules together, creating the Foundational Quality Standards for Early Learning Programs. These new licensing standards, which include both center and family home rules, acknowledge the uniqueness of settings and programs, and ensure the alignment of quality and equity. The standards alignment process also helped providers and DCYF establish better partnership relationships based on trust, collaboration, and transparent communication.

DCYF recognizes family home providers as business owners and professionals. Establishing minimum education and training requirements is one way to ensure providers are prepared to serve diverse communities of families and children in our state. Moving beyond a current GED qualification requirement in our new licensing standards will support family home providers with their professional and business careers, and providers have 5 years to meet this additional requirement. Additionally, the department collaborated with providers to develop a pathway allowing a variety of equivalent options to comply with the qualification requirements. The equivalency pathway may include combined options from participating in educational credentials to demonstrating knowledge and skills. A varied equivalency approach honors not only providers with many rich years of experience but also those who choose to engage in additional educational opportunities.

DCYF is committed to establishing a shared understanding and joint leadership with our early learning communities to continue making progress in developing an efficient system to address the needs of young children and their families. Washington state child care providers are invaluable to children, families and communities because they provide a unique environment to meet children’s individual needs and promote positive outcomes. Our goal as a state agency is to support them in this important work.

Heather Moss is deputy secretary of the Washington state Department of Children, Youth, and Families.

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