Governor’s “Wisconsin Works for Everyone” Proposal Through the Lens of Early Childhood

 

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The WI Governor recently announced that a component of his “Wisconsin Works for Everyone” proposal, which is a part of his 2017-19 budget, integrates a focus on “strengthening families.” This includes two measures in particular, which could give early childhood a positive boost: (Below taken from the Governor’s initial press releases and Wisconsin Works for Everyone announcement).

“Eliminating the Child Care Cliff

  • For some families, the childcare subsidy program contains a large benefit cliff at 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Line (FPL). At the cliff, a family may lose far more subsidies than they gain from working more hours or taking a raise. This discourages work.
  • Reforms would eliminate the cliff by establishing a phase-out structure. Instead of losing all subsidies at once, working families would see co-payments increased by $1 for every $3 that a family earns over the 200 FPL threshold until the family’s contribution reaches full cost of care. Under our reforms, taking a raise would always pay for the purposes of childcare subsidies.”

“Invest an additional $3.9 million into the Family Foundations Home Visiting (FFHV) program. The FFHV focuses on six areas:

  • Improved maternal and child health
  • Prevention of child injuries, child abuse, neglect and maltreatment
  • Increased school readiness and achievement
  • Reduced domestic violence
  • Improved family economic self-sufficiency
  • Greater coordination and referrals for other community resources and support”

Let’s break down what these measures mean for early childhood and for families, and what they look like in action.

The first measure, an effort to eliminate the “child care cliff” addresses the issue that some families have participating in WI Shares, which provides child care subsidies to help lower-income families pay for quality child care. The “child care cliff” refers to the effect that occurs when a family goes from being initially eligible, (the family’s gross monthly income must be equal to or less than 185% Federal Poverty Level (FPL) for their corresponding group/family size), until their monthly income reaches 200% FPL, making them ineligible for subsidies. This means that if a family receiving subsidies has an increase in income—say that a parent gets a raise for instance, and their income reaches that 200% FPL, in the current system this family would no longer qualify for child care subsidies and could not receive assistance in paying for child care. This is problematic since many families still struggle to pay for child care even after they have reached that threshold. The cost they take on for child care as a result of losing those subsidies may be far greater than their increase in income.

This sets up a system that could discourage parents from seeking salary raises and promotions, and puts them in the position of having to choose between receiving child care subsidies they need now, and working towards upward mobility in their jobs, which may lead to long-term, sustainable income in the future that will eventually empower them to disengage from child care assistance and other forms of assistance. In some cases, if families lose this subsidy it could mean they can no longer afford child care, which leaves them with no care for their children and could put their job in jeopardy if they must take time off work to find a solution. The proposed change would modify this cliff to be a more gradual slope, by incrementally increasing the portion parents pay towards child care ($1 for every $3 earned over 200% FPL) while gradually decreasing the amount that subsidies cover, instead of taking all of the subsidies away at once. This gives parents the opportunity to better their work position and pay without having to worry about losing their child care subsidies until their income allows them to meet the full cost of paying for child care. Allowing this continued accessibility to quality care for families is incredibly important given the positive impact that quality early care and education programs have been shown to have for our youngest children, providing a developmentally supportive environment during a time when their brain is most rapidly developing.

The second measure, to invest an additional $3.9 million into the Family Foundations Home Visiting (FFHV) program, is equally encouraging. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website, FFHV currently serves more than 1,000 families statewide. Like quality early care and education programs, FFHV has been shown to have highly positive effects on the life-long outcomes of young children and their families. The FFHV program specifically seeks improved outcomes in at-risk families in the six focus areas identified in the Governor’s proposal, and does so through evidence-based home visiting that involves working with parents and children in their home environments. FFHV programming supports pregnant women and parents of children from birth to age five in engaging with resources that empower them with the knowledge to raise children who are physically, socially, and emotionally healthy and ready to learn. The Governor’s own Early Childhood Advisory Committee (ECAC) included home visiting in their recommendations for investment, noting that home visiting shows several promising outcomes including:

  • Reductions in the number of low-birth weight babies
  • Reductions in child abuse and neglect rates by 50 percent
  • Improvements in school achievement
  • Increased graduation rates
  • A return of up to $5.70 for every dollar invested in home visiting, due to reduced costs of child welfare, special education, grade retention, and juvenile justice.

(Above outcomes taken from ECAC report: https://dcf.wisconsin.gov/files/ecac/2015-ecac-annrpt.pdf)

This increase in funding for FFHV is a positive step for at-risk children and families who benefit from this program, but it is important to keep in mind that this state level increase comes after a significant 20% cut in federal funding to WI home visiting last year, from over $12 million to $10.4 million. This proposed state level increase would fill in this funding gap with a little over the previous federal funds, but still more funding is needed to support and expand the FFHV program beyond where it is now. Zero to Three provides resources and tools you can use in helping policymakers and professionals understand the importance of investing in home visiting: https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/series/home-visiting-supporting-parents-and-child-development.

Both of these measures were included in the Governor’s 2017-19 Budget proposal, which is currently going through the legislative budget process. Keep an eye out for the finalized budget that should be effective this year at the beginning of July, in line with the state budgetary cycle.

For further detail regarding these measures and the  Wisconsin Works for Everyone proposal, watch the 2017 Budget Address: https://walker.wi.gov/wiworking

(This article was originally published in the SFTA Q1 2017 Newsletter. Subscribe to our newsletter).

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

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(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).

Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation in Wisconsin Best Practice Guidelines

Check out this great resource for Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation (IECMHC); an effective intervention strategy for building parent/caregiver capacity to support young children’s social and emotional development and to address challenging behaviors. Click here for the printable PDF.

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PIWI Grant Awards

Three SFTA member agencies were recently chosen to receive funding to implement Parents Interacting With Infants (PIWI) in their regions, through Race to the Top funds distributed by the Pyramid Model State Leadership Team. PIWI is an approach involving parents and their babies, meant to strengthen the child/parent bond and understanding while also building parents’ confidence and knowledge as caregivers. The agencies awarded these funds—Family Resource Center of Eau Claire County, Northwest Connection Family Resources, and Family Connections of Southwest Wisconsin – each have a unique take on the implementation of PIWI in their regions.

Family Resource Center of Eau Claire County

Kari Stroede, Executive Director of the Family Resource Center of Eau Claire County, stated that her agency is taking a four-part approach to implementing PIWI.

“Along came this grant opportunity and we thought, wow, we can really blend multiple things here,” said Kari.

The funding will primarily be used to offer “Baby Cafés;” a six-part series for infants andBaby Cafe Invite their parents incorporating PIWI methodology. These cafés will take place for an hour and a half once a week from April through May of 2016. Cafés are currently still in the planning stages in terms of what the structure will look like, but recruitment is already in the works. The agency plans to take café invitations directly into birthing centers at local hospitals, so that new parents can easily access this opportunity. Parents will receive yet-to-be-determined incentives for attending all six cafés.

“We are very intentional in terms of how we plan the Baby Cafés,” stressed Kari. “It’s a support place for parents…focused on where they are at.”

Family Resource Center of Eau Claire County is partnering with Child Care Partnership (the local Child Care Resource & Referral agency and SFTA member), who will provide a PIWI certified trainer for the Baby Cafés. Northwest Breastfeeding Network is also a partner in planning, and may offer the opportunity for Baby Cafés to extend beyond the funded period, as a continuing monthly or bi-monthly event, where a lactation specialist would be available.

In addition to Baby Cafés, the agency’s PIWI funding will be used to create ten “Play with Me” bags—with mobile and non-mobile infants in mind—for families to check out for up to a month. The bags will contain items such as washable toys and other materials focused on different developmental periods, to support child development and parent-child interactions. Kari recently submitted a grant to an area community foundation to create 20 more bags focused on preschool -aged children, to expand this effort beyond infants.

The agency has also budgeted to build an infant-toddler library containing high-quality materials that can be used to support PIWI implementation. The libraries are housed within latched transport tubs for easy mobility, so that if another agency wants to create and support a PIWI play group or Baby Café, they have materials to get them started.

Finally, a portion of the PIWI funding will be used to support child care programs with 2 or 3 Star ratings in YoungStar, Wisconsin’s Child Care Quality Rating & Improvement System, in understanding and implementing PIWI. Family Resource Center of Eau Claire County has connected with two child care programs in Eau Claire that have large infant populations. Together they plan to offer a PIWI coaching clinic in the fall where providers from other programs will be invited. The clinic will be followed by triadic coaching in the classrooms to teach providers how to implement PIWI into their program on a regular basis.

“Our desired outcome would be that we continue the collaboration, the partnerships that we have created through this,” said Kari. “We are all in this together. We are really very tickled with the collaborative piece of this.”

Family Connections of Southwest Wisconsin

Funding received by Family Connections of Southwest Wisconsin (Child Care Resource & Referral agency and SFTA member), will be focused in Lafayette County, according to Executive Director Sabrina Earl. The agency has already built community connections in this county through the Parent Cafés they are currently hosting, and this area has been identified as having higher Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) scores compared to the rest of the agency’s service delivery area. A higher ACE score indicates an individual is at a greater risk for physical and mental health issues, and poorer overall outcomes. PIWI funding directed where these higher risks exist will target those who need it most.

“So often our families are not connecting anymore,” said Sabrina. “I really think families need that connection.”

Family Connections of SWWI, true to its name, is creating an opportunity for families to connect through their PIWI funding. Three families from a local 2 Star child care program and three families from Head Start will be chosen based on need, to meet at the Darlington Community Center starting in September. They will meet weekly for an hour and a half to 2 hours, for 6 weeks. Families will take part in guided activities centered on PIWI, facilitated by Sabrina and a family resource center staff member. Head Start and child care program staff will shadow the sessions in order to learn effective PIWI implementation. Participating families will also be encouraged to participate in Parent Cafés to continue to build supports and connect with parents in other venues. After the initial 6-week period funded by this grant, Head Start plans to continue monthly meetings with families in their services in a similar fashion, while the child care provider will use PIWI to support continuing family engagement in their program.

Northwest Connection Family Resources

Northwest Connection Family Resources is working with multiple community partners to implement their PIWI funding, including UW Extension Educator, Indianhead Community Action Agency Head Start, Sawyer County Birth to 3, Hayward Community Schools, the Mino Maajiswein Home Visitation Program and Star Bright Daycare.  Two planning meetings have taken place thus far, to outline community needs, partnership roles and anticipated outcomes. These meetings also involved discussions about recruitment and how to support parent/child pairs in expanding on their current strengths to reach higher levels of engagement and learning.

Up to eight parent/child pairs will attend a 6-week PIWI-focused series.  Community partners will identify two families they would like to invite to the first series, which will begin Thursday, April 21st from 9:30 to 11 am at Northwest Connection Family Resources. Because social emotional competency is the foundation of early childhood development, the series covers related topic areas including:  What Makes Me Laugh and Why I Need You.  Participants will be encouraged to attend every session through weekly incentives, and a completion certificate and incentive given to each family.  Child care will be offered for siblings in order to effectively support the participating parent/child pairs during the PIWI program.

“In every session, through a variety of activities, songs and books, parents will learn about their child’s development, temperament, and interests while having fun together in developmentally supportive environments,” said Northwest Connection Family Resources Co-Director, Kathy Mullally.

Northwest Connections Family Resources will continue to gain valuable insight from partners and parents through this first series, which will help guide the planning for the next PIWI series to be held in the fall.

Stay tuned to our social media and partner agency websites for updates on these awesome efforts!

*This article was originally published in SFTA’s Q1 2016 newsletter. View the full newsletter here, and access previous newsletters through our publication archives.

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).

 

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

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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.