Agencies that help parents find day care often recommend finding a center that has been nationally recognized for meeting higher standards — an accredited center.
But they can’t do that in Middle Georgia.
There are no nationally accredited day care centers here outside Robins Air Force Base. (There is one nationally accredited home day care in Warner Robins).
Why not? The most common answer is: It’s expensive.
Generally, to achieve national accreditation, day cares must invest more in their toys and equipment, spend more time on developing lesson plans and pay more for better educated teachers. They may also have to hire more teachers to reduce the number of children that each adult supervises. Then there are the application fees, which can run thousands of dollars.
Several years ago there were more accredited centers, but some directors and owners said maintaining accreditation was too costly.
Nationally, the number of accredited child care centers has dropped 27 percent since 2007, probably because of the economy, said Pam Tatum, CEO of Quality Care for Children. Through a contract with the state, the Atlanta-based nonprofit helps parents find day care and helps day cares improve.
Most day care centers earn only a 4 percent to 5 percent profit margin, so they need to stay full, Tatum said. Instead, many slots opened as parents lost their jobs or moved children to cheaper, informal options, like a friend or relative.
Striving for more
But now, with help from state-funded assistance from early education specialists, about 30 Middle Georgia day cares are working toward accreditation.
Houston County has the highest number in Middle Georgia with 13 providers working on accreditation, followed by Peach and Bibb counties with eight each. A few other nearby counties have one or two. The only provider in Jones County that was seeking accreditation, Kids University on Ga. 49, was likely disqualified by the recent arrest of the director there, said Julie Phillips, director of the regional child care resource and referral agency for Central Georgia at Macon.
Georgia’s Department of Early Care and Learning, also called Bright from the Start, recently started a new push to increase day care accreditation. The department is using $2 million in stimulus funds for regional referral agencies to pitch accreditation to high-performing day cares and help them achieve it, said Stacey Moore, Bright from the Start’s public relations director.
The agencies can offer up to $2,000 to help centers, and about $900 for family day cares, Phillips said.
Many day care owners decline, pointing to factors such as low enrollment, approaching retirement and busy schedules, she said.
But Carletta Threatt, owner and director of C-Three Childcare & Learning Center on Locksley Drive, said the effort hasn’t cost her a penny.
State funding paid application fees and provided new toys this winter. “I was just screaming!” said Threatt, whose 20-year-old center is full with more than 70 children. “It was like Christmas in February! The rooms look just awesome.”
Using federal stimulus funds, Georgia is also helping teachers afford a child development associate degree, which is generally required for accreditation and which will also be required statewide starting in 2012.
Tatum said that in mid-December 2009, there were just 221 accredited child care programs out of more than 8,000 statewide. Most of them were in metro Atlanta, where there may be more demand partly because so many people moved there from other states, she said.
“(Accredited day cares) have a longer wait list,” she said. “We’ve been able to convince them it will make them more competitive. ... Unfortunately, there are not enough programs to meet the demand.”
Among Bright from the Start’s 2010 goals, as stated on the agency’s website, is increasing the number of accredited child care settings by 10 percent within two years.
Accreditation does tend to drive up the price of care, Tatum acknowledged. In 2007 in Atlanta, a family would pay an average of $1,560 a year more for an infant enrolled in an accredited program, she said.
Concerns about driving up fees is the reason Tony Foskey said his company let accreditation expire for two of its Houston County day cares. Foskey is vice president of the Warner Robins-based Children’s Friend chain, and its locations on Moody Road and Kimberly Road were accredited through the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the leading national accrediting agency. But Foskey said renewal might have required hiring more teachers and raising prices.
Plus, the company didn’t find that accreditation increased revenue, he said. “Unfortunately, I don’t know how much our clients appreciate accreditation,” he said.
Nevertheless, motivated staff at the centers are again pursuing that goal, this time with a different accrediting agency, the National Early Childhood Program Accreditation, Foskey said.
He said his family’s company, which cares for about 5,000 children at day cares across Georgia, has no plans to pursue accreditation at its other centers.
“We’d love for all our sites to be accredited,” he said. “The cost is what keeps us from doing it.”
Donna Williams had the same experience with her Meadowdale Learning Center in Perry, which also let its accreditation expire. But she is now pursuing it again, through the same agency as Foskey, both at the Perry center and at locations on Moody and Elberta roads in Warner Robins.
Unlike Foskey, Williams found that she gained customers as a result of accreditation.
“Normally, I can tell you child care is a convenience thing,” she said. “People go to the one they pass on the way to work. But with accreditation, we had some come to us 20 miles just to get a program that was quality.”
To help afford accreditation, Williams wrote grants. Like Threatt, she’ll also receive some state funding for supplies.
“We felt like it could be a win for us,” Williams said. “We want our parents to know we’re striving to improve.”
Education First, a nonprofit that grew out of the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce, made early childhood education one of its key platforms when it was created about five years ago.
Cyndey Busbee, its original interim director and later the chair of its early childhood committee, said the group initially hoped to help most Bibb County day cares achieve national accreditation. But after more research they realized that, at the time, 80 percent of Bibb day cares didn’t even meet the state’s minimum standards, she said.
Education First shifted to a more modest goal of encouraging day care centers to strive for 100 percent compliance with state health and safety requirements.
Some day cares responded and started touting their good compliance records, but that stopped as Education First shifted focus and the state began reporting compliance differently.
The state used to designate “centers of distinction” that had excellent compliance records, but that program was discontinued in June 2009, Moore said.
To contact writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.