Farm to Early Care and Education: The Parenting Place

In June of 2016 The Parenting Place, a Child Care Resource & Referral agency in La Crosse, WI, was awarded funding through the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to implement Farm to Early Care and Education (Farm to ECE) practices with local child care programs in La Crosse County. The Parenting Place is working collaboratively on implementation with Community GroundWorks and the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families. Wisconsin is one of four states working with the Kellogg Foundation as part of a larger project on behalf of Farm to ECE aimed at children ages 0-5, to increase access to fresh and local food options for children in early care and education, and to build children and families’ knowledge about healthy eating in care and at home.

“Right now, our obesity rate is so high in children and they have lost the connection ofHGNS - Garden where their food comes from,” said Farm to Early Care & Education Program Coordinator Emily Doblar, adding that the accessibility and low cost of fast food means some children don’t even frequent grocery stores often. Farm to ECE is “really just giving them a sense of community and excitement about healthy food while educating and engaging families makes a huge impact.”

This project is intended to run for 2 years, and The Parenting Place has chosen five child care sites for initial implementation of this project through a detailed application process. Emily currently works with these five sites. In the second year of the project another five sites will be chosen through a similar application process.

Emily not only works closely with the five participating child care programs but with local farmers, Master Gardeners, greenhouses and trainers like Community Groundworks to build lasting connections for these programs to access fresh, local food and provide hands-on experiences for children in care, such as field trips to local farms or having a garden onsite.

“Relationships are an important part of this work in so many aspects,” explained Emily. “We learn from our grant partners, child care sites and from the local farmers and growers that are working together to make this program a success.”

Each child care program has completed a Farm to ECE self-assessment identifying potential for growth in areas including purchasing and serving fresh and local food, family engagement, onsite gardens, and hands-on learning. From these self-assessments, programs have worked with Emily to create a Farm to ECE Action Plan, identifying steps to take and materials they need to meet their Farm to ECE goals, including ways to sustain those changes after the project with The Parenting Place is completed. The concept for both the self-assessments and the Action Plans are loosely based on similar tools used in YoungStar, Wisconsin’s Child Care Quality Rating & Improvement System. The Parenting Place provides partial funding for programs to meet their goals in a sustainable manner, such as child-sized gardening implements, tools to prepare local produce, field trips to farms or farmer’s markets, resources to host family engagement events, or gardening workshops for child care providers.

cowsThe connections Emily is building between early educators and local farming/gardening experts, has helped to overcome some of the unique challenges that ECE programs face in building Farm to ECE into their daily routines. Unlike many WI K-12 schools, child care programs are far more varied in the number of children they have at one time, making it difficult to meet minimum ordering requirements for farms and other fresh food vendors. Some child care programs have very limited budgets to work with, are in areas where it may be unsafe to leave for field trips, or have very little green space or light exposure for a garden. Each program also has their own philosophy that guides the care of the children and may affect how they approach Farm to ECE implementation. Furthermore, there is the need to consider cultural diversity across programs and families and how the Farm to ECE approach might look a little different to meet the varied needs of family and program cultures. For instance, Emily is working with a Hmong preschool teacher familiar with Farm to ECE to engage with Hmong farmers and is working with Community Groundworks to revise the Farm to ECE materials and approach to be a better fit for this purpose. Emily has been able to work with each program from where they are starting and what they need, getting local farmers and other resources in place to support program efforts.

“A lot of [the farmers] are really excited,” said Emily, noting successes like one local beef farmer who is on the board of a Farmer’s Market and would like to offer a family night with a petting zoo. Other organic growers have offered to send e-mails every few weeks to program sites to let them know when food is available at a reduced cost. Several farmers are open to having programs out for field trips, and a few have even offered to bring learning opportunities from the farm onsite for programs that are unable to travel from their building. Participating providers are also enthusiastic and have started to meet and discuss ideas and resources amongst themselves, a collaboration they plan to continue.

The end goal of this 2-year project (which concludes in May of 2018) is to impact approximately 250 children through the selected 10 child care program sites, by creating lasting changes in how these children and child care programs approach and understand healthy, local eating. Programs will be working to have sustainability plans in place so that they can continue integrating Farm to ECE into their daily routine beyond this project. Lessons learned from this project and the methodology used can then serve as a model for other ECE sites nationally, and could be used to inform future regulations, quality rating criteria or accreditation standards.

This story was originally published in the SFTA Q2 2017 newsletter. Access the full newsletter here, or sign up to receive our quarterly newsletters.

Introducing the YoungStar Micro-Grant Program & the Latest News in Micro-Grants

micro-grant-program-staff
There are some new names and faces behind the YoungStar Micro-Grant team as Supporting Families Together Association (SFTA) takes on the management of YoungStar micro-grants. Micro-Grant funding is available to programs that are participating in the YoungStar program and who have requested and are receiving technical assistance. These funds can be spent on materials, resources, and professional development opportunities that directly relate to a child care program’s Quality Improvement Plan (QIP). All purchase requests for micro-grants are processed and coordinated by the Micro-Grant Department: (*Reference the YoungStar regional map).

For general information questions about orders, timelines, or changes to a purchase plan:

For questions about returns or reimbursements:

Sarah Ross Berry, Micro-Grant Financial Specialist (sarah@supportingfamiliestogether.org).

For questions about policies and administration of the YoungStar Micro-Grant Program:

Sherri Underwood, Micro-Grant Manager (sherri@supportingfamiliestogether.org).

Assigning a specific Micro-Grant staff member to each YoungStar region for providers to contact has already noticeably decreased e-mails sent to the general micro-grant e-mail, showing providers are engaging more directly with the individuals serving their regions to obtain the information they need. This is not the only update the Micro-Grant Program has seen. Changes are being made to the YoungStar micro-grant process that you may have noticed if you are a provider receiving a micro-grant:

  • Reimbursements have gone out weekly to providers since SFTA took over the Micro-Grant Program in July of 2016. This allows providers to receive their money more quickly.
  • Programs will soon also be receiving their micro-grant materials faster, thanks to extra staff support that is being added to the micro-grant purchasing process (Chanel Ly).
  • The Micro-Grant Program is continuing to work to ensure that there is equal access to micro-grant materials and resources by working to translate materials into Spanish, and ensuring that Gloria is available to provide Spanish language support and Chanel is available to provide Hmong language support, as needed.
  • A focused effort is being made by the entire Micro-Grant Program to increase communications with Technical Consultants (TCs) regarding micro-grants. This means sharing micro-grant information on regular TC calls, including TCs on micro-grant e-mails to the providers they serve, weekly e-blasts to TCs and Micro-Grant staff taking more detailed notes regarding micro-grant interactions with providers that TCs can review. This gives providers the option to talk to their TC, who they know and trust, about their micro-grant.
  • Providers can access current micro-grant handbooks through their local YoungStar office by request (See the YoungStar Regional Map).
  • The Micro-Grant Program recently added a new vendor that providers can order discounted materials from, “S&S Worldwide,” to better meet the needs of school-age programs.

It is the Micro-Grant Program’s goal to make navigating the Micro-Grant Program simpler and more straight-forward for providers, and recent changes are a step in that direction. What all of this translates to out in the field is that child care programs are getting high quality materials and supports more quickly and efficiently to further their QIPs, which builds more developmentally supportive child care environments for children and their families. The Micro-Grant Program Staff are a crucial link in ensuring providers can use their micro-grants in a timely manner to support the quality of their programs and the children they serve.

Check out SFTA’s newest website addition, the Micro-Grant Program page for more information and resources on micro-grants.

This article was originally published in the SFTA Q4 2016 newsletter. Subscribe to our newsletters and other e-publications here.

Top 5 Reasons to Become a Regulated Child Care Provider in WI

benefits-of-regulation-providers

(Review the two types of child care regulation in WI: Licensing and Certification)

  1. Child Care Subsidies: Only regulated child care providers participating in YoungStar are eligible to care for families participating in Wisconsin Shares, which helps families pay for child care. This opens your program to a broader population of potential families in need of care. Participating in YoungStar also provides you with added benefits, such as technical consultation and access to micro-grants to purchase materials for your program.
  2. Participation in the WI Child & Adult Care Food Program (CACFP): Regulated child care programs can join a CACFP food program and are reimbursed for the cost of serving nutritious meals and snacks to the children in their care.
  3. Child Care Referrals: WI Child Care Resource & Referral agencies (CCR&Rs) generate lists of child care options for parents looking for child care and can only include regulated child care programs in these referrals. Deciding to be regulated puts your program on these lists, which makes good marketing sense for promoting your child care business.
  4. Business Benefits & Supports: Regulated child care providers may be qualified to apply for grants or loans, seek small business assistance, and claim income tax deductions. There is more technical assistance and consultation available to regulated providers from their local CCR&R, meaning that being regulated increases your opportunity for professional growth.
  5. Build Trust with the Families You Serve: Being regulated demonstrates your commitment to being a quality child care professional and shows that your program meets statewide standards meant to ensure children’s safety and well-being. This offers parents and caregivers looking for care an added level of comfort and trust in your program.

For more information about becoming a regulated child care provider, visit the SFTA website or contact your local CCR&R agency at (888) 713. KIDS (5437). (Click on the image at the top right of this post for an interactive version of this list).

(This post was originally published in the Supporting Family Together Association’s quarterly e-newsletter. Subscribe to our quarterly newsletter here, or visit our publication archives to see past newsletters).

Family Style Dining Guide

Check out this great mealtime resource for early care and education programs from the Ohio Child Care Resource & Referral Association and partners. This guide offers a family style dining approach that “early care and education programs [can] implement to address childhood obesity prevention and support children in developmentally appropriate mealtime experiences. All foods that meet the meal pattern requirement are placed on the table where children and adults sit together to share the meal. Children are encouraged to serve themselves independently or with adults’ help.”

fsd

Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) & Child Care

One of the 2016 YoungStar Evaluation Criteria changes now being implemented in child care programs statewide is the recently added optional point for Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) (Learning Environment and Curriculum, B.1.3), which replaced the Additional Work on a Quality Improvement Plan. YoungStar Technical Consultants (TCs) are working with providers to incorporate this point into their daily practice, or identify what they already have in their program that meets the requirements. The point requirements read as follows, and all 5 must be met to earn the point:

  1. Written program philosophy includes a statement regarding how the program believes children learn AND how teachers teach, reflecting developmentally appropriate practice. The program philosophy is available to families and staff in the parent handbook and employee handbook.
  2. Staff provides care that is engaging, comforting, culturally sensitive and compassionate. Interactions must be positive or neutral at best. Teachers use language that the children understand and help children communicate appropriately. Teachers foster relationship building between, teachers and children, and peer to peer.
  3. Exploration and play for children is supported by the environment. Learning occurs best when opportunities are created in natural and authentic contexts.
  4. Children have routines and consistent schedules. Teachers adapt schedules and experiences to individual children’s needs within the group setting.
  5. Reciprocal relationships with families exist between program and families. Programs must make an effort to get to know children’s families.

(*Taken from DCF site, PowerPoint Overview of 2016 Evaluation Criteria)

Mary Sue Voights, a trainer & YoungStar TC with Child Care Resource & Referral, Inc., has already worked with both group and family child care programs on earning the DAP point.

“It’s interesting because I find that family programs have less difficulty with this one,” said Mary Sue, referencing her own experience with DAP thus far. “Family providers work with mixed age groups so they are already used to making the materials and activities available to varying ages and abilities.”

Mary Sue has found ways to make this point more accessible to both group and family programs. She tailored a DAP training to be a one-on-one consultation tool to support individual programs in meeting the specifics of the point, has compiled handouts on DAP and what she calls “DIP” (Developmentally Inappropriate Practices), and uses a video clip about DAP from NAEYC to show providers how they can effectively implement DAP.

An example of this is supporting group centers in incorporating enough free play. Mary Sue reviews the schedule with them and shows them where they might eliminate some of the whole group play activities, instead, “setting up experiences and materials in the centers and then just going through them with the children, playing with them to support their development.”

“Everybody really wants to do the right thing [by incorporating DAP],” noted Mary Sue, “but we have lost sight of what DAP are for children, which is putting play back in and being there, guiding that play with them.”

In working with infants and toddlers, said Mary Sue, this means bringing content back to what is DAP for an age range where children, especially toddlers, appear to be more capable than they actually are emotionally. Understanding DAP means providers know what to expect for typical behavior from the children in their care, and use that to better support each child’s needs.

Carrie J. Steinke, Quality Improvement Specialist at Childcaring, Inc., said that TCs at her agency are also in full swing to support programs in earning the DAP point.

“We are talking about both the DAP and the Family Engagement (FE) points early and often in our work with programs,” said Carrie. “We are encouraging providers and programs to engage with those points by the second TC visit, if at all possible, if they are planning to earn them, because we really need to have a good amount of time to cover all of the details of those points—both in consultation and at rating time.”

Carrie said they are asking programs to look carefully at their current practices to see where changes to policies or procedures could be made to meet the requirements of the point, while still meeting the philosophy of the program and the needs of the children.

“These points; [DAP and FE], are both a nice opportunity to talk with programs about best practice in a new way,” added Carrie.

For more resources on DAP

SFTA:
Developmentally Appropriate Practice Pinterest Board
NAEYC:
Recommended Professional Development Library for DAP
Q&A with the editors of Developmentally Appropriate Practice
DAP Frequently Asked Questions
10 Effective DAP Teaching Strategies
The Activity Idea Place:
Developmentally Appropriate Practices with Young Children

(*This article was originally published in SFTA’s Q1 2016 newsletter. View the full publication here. Sign up to receive our quarterly newsletter here).

 

WI Child Care Providers: Fingerprinting Requirement

finger printDear Child Care Professionals:

Child care providers receiving Wisconsin Shares child care subsidy (also known as county subsidy) and/or participating in YoungStar are required to obtain a one-time only fingerprint check on all caregiver employees no later than December 31, 2015. Licensed child care centers must apply for an authorization from the Department of Justice Crime Information Bureau to receive the fingerprint check results before submitting the fingerprint background check request.

Prior to conducting fingerprint-based background checks on employees, please complete this form on the DOJ website and submit it to the Crime Information Bureau. Providers can submit completed forms via:

Email: CIBRecordCheck@doj.state.wi.us
FAX: 608.267.4558
U.S. Mail:

WI Department of Justice
Record Check Unit
PO BOX 2688
Madison, WI  53701-2688

For information on Caregiver Background Checks, visit the website: http://dcf.wisconsin.gov/childcare/licensed/CBC.htm

The Decrease in Wisconsin’s Regulated Child Care Providers: Why it Matters

iStock_000020980840Medium

It is a typical day at one of the ten Wisconsin Child Care Resource and Referral agencies when the staff gets the news. Two more child care providers in their region have closed, leaving families who depend on them for child care scrambling for a replacement, and even fewer options for families to choose from in a dwindling pool of regulated providers.

This is the story playing out across Wisconsin. Despite a national increase in the number of child care programs (Forbes, 2014), Wisconsin has seen a steady decrease in the number of regulated child care providers, with a loss of 1,250 such providers from 2011 through 2014.

Why does regulation matter? Regulated providers are accountable to someone for the skills and knowledge they have and the care that they provide. Whether that means their program is certified or licensed, they must meet certain quality standards annually to maintain that status, ensuring a safe and healthy environment for the children enrolled. Furthermore, they are given vital supports to do so, including—depending on whether a program is certified or licensed and on their participation in the state’s child care quality rating and improvement system, YoungStar—opportunities for continued education, micro-grants to improve their program, parent referrals to their program from their local Child Care Resource & Referral agency, the ability to accept children participating in Wisconsin Shares, and to take part in the Child and Adult Care Food Program. Child care programs that operate without regulation, and possibly illegally, have not met verified standards and do not have access to formal supports. Regulated programs adhere to stronger standards that keep children safe and are more likely to prevent tragedies, like the recent death of an infant in an unregulated WI child care  and similar stories  that continue to crop up across the state.

Basic safety aside, early childhood is a crucial period of rapid brain development. Studies show the experiences and education that children receive at an early age will help to determine their later success as adults, and as members of our communities. Children with strong, positive early supports and education have been proven to have higher graduation and employment rates, lower rates of incarceration and need for public assistance, greater social emotional stability, and an overall higher rate of success. Knowing this, do we really want Wisconsin children’s early experiences to be lacking?

Wisconsin needs regulated child care providers. Yet we are losing them at a steady pace. The question is, why, and what can we do about it?

While there is currently no single confirmed reason as to why regulated providers are decreasing in Wisconsin, there are a few challenges to the field that could be behind the shift.

  • The cost of quality care is high—for parents and providers. Building a quality child care means that a provider is investing in improvements to their environments, cultivating their knowledge and education in early childhood, purchasing materials for the classroom, food for meals, etc., not to mention still having to pay themselves and any staff. Quality does not come easy or cheap. As such, higher quality programs cost more to attend, and the bulk of that cost falls on parents. While there are definitely supports in place to assist both providers and parents (Wisconsin Shares) in affording quality care, it is not enough. According to the 2014 Parents and the High Cost of Child Care national report, Wisconsin is in the top ten of the least affordable states for center-based care. This is likely because in Wisconsin, there is just not enough money in early education to go around. Providers struggle to achieve quality and sustain their business while families who are from lower and even middle income brackets struggle to find the money to send their children to high quality child care programs. Some providers may find it easier to give up on providing regulated care and either turn to a new career, or provide unregulated or even illegal care. Meanwhile parents are forced to choose between a high quality care that strains their budget or a lesser quality care that they can afford. Many will have to choose the latter, meaning higher quality programs lose that business and children lose out on a quality program.
  • Child care providers are grossly undercompensated. Quality in early education means quality providers. You do not hire the 6-year-old down the street to do your taxes; you certainly do not want an unqualified person caring for your children. Staff participating in YoungStar, Wisconsin’s Child Care Quality Rating and Improvement System, are supported and encouraged to go back to school, to earn further credentials and knowledge, and to apply that within programs. Yet, more education means a higher pay rate—or at least it should. The majority of child care providers continue to be underpaid, earning an hourly rate in line with a retail or fast food worker. The truth is that many programs, group or family, do not have the money to pay themselves or their staff what they are worth; which is a lot. They can hike enrollment rates, putting the financial burden back on parents who may not be able to afford to stay, or, as many do, they can deal with staff turnover as they lose people to higher paying careers. Now those programs have not only lost quality providers that they have invested in, they have to start all over again building quality with someone new.

There is ultimately not enough funding invested in early education to keep quality, regulated providers incentivized and supported, and in the end it is our children that lose out.

You may not think this is your issue. But as we lose more regulated providers for our youngest citizens, we are not only short-changing future generations, we are short-changing ourselves by limiting the opportunities they have to grow and accomplish great things in the communities where we reside. The solution here is simple: Invest in early educators, invest in Wisconsin children and families. Every child should be able to access quality care. We should be growing quality, regulated child care providers, not losing them.