Consumers use star ratings to help judge the quality of restaurants and hotels. In Georgia, child care programs are about to get the same treatment.
Beginning Monday, ratings for about 200 such programs across the state will be posted online, helping parents decide which one would be best for their child.
Georgias system to assess, improve and communicate the quality level in child care programs is called Quality Rated.
Of the states 6,000 child care programs, nearly 1,300 are participating in Quality Rated so far, said Reg Griffin, spokesman for the state Department of Early Care and Learning, which supervises day care centers, family home day cares and larger group home day cares.
Participation in Quality Rated is voluntary.
We hope it raises the level of conversation ... that child care is more than baby-sitting, he said.
Quality Rated uses one, two and three stars to show which early care and education programs meet a set of standards that exceeds the states minimum licensing requirements. A program earns a higher number of stars by having more highly trained staff, more adults supervising fewer children and emphasizing learning practices, among other measures.
However, just being in the program is important, Griffin said.
So far, 16 child care programs in Bibb County have volunteered for the Quality Rated initiative, and 15 in Houston County have done so.
The program has been in the works since 2006. In 2008, insights from focus groups helped refine how it would work. The program itself actually launched in January 2012 with a goal of 700 child care programs signing on.
To participate, a program must submit a portfolio that includes details on such things as student-teacher ratio, the curriculum, how nutritious snacks and meals are and physical activity for children, Griffin said.
Assessors also make site visits, where they spend three hours with each age group at a center.
Youre going to see a lot of common practices in three hours, Griffin said.
It takes about 90 days to go through the process. If programs dont make the cut the first time, they can reapply.
The state has hired more assessors recently to try to review sites more quickly, Griffin said.
Depending on how they fare in the application process, day cares that meet the higher standards can earn rewards.
Programs that participate in Quality Rated become eligible for free professional development, technical assistance and financial incentive packages supported by foundations and businesses.
Star-rated programs receive an increase in the state/federal reimbursements they receive from Georgias Childcare and Parent Services program, which provides subsidized child care for low-income families.
The state has estimated that the tiered reimbursements to higher-performing day cares would cost about $9.4 million for fiscal 2014 and perhaps double that once the program is up to speed.
With support from the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students and other public-private partners, Quality Rated will use billboards, print, radio, TV and online advertising to promote the voluntary program across the state.
We want parents to be aware of Quality Rated and use this information in selecting quality early education for their children, DECAL Commissioner Bobby Cagle said in a statement. If they already have a child care program, we hope they ask them if they are Quality Rated -- and if not, why not?
To contact writer Oby Brown, call 744-4397.