SPOKANE – Choosing a child care provider is a major decision a parent makes for his or her child in the earliest years, when high quality care makes a huge difference in a child’s readiness to learn, social abilities and other life skills.
 
This important choice is the subject of a grant received by Washington State University Spokane from the Washington State Department of Early Learning (DEL).
 
DEL recently selected Spokane as one of five communities in the state to design pilot rating systems for early learning programs, providing the Area Health Education Center (AHEC) at WSU Spokane with $100,000 in grant funding to lead the project. WSU will work with childcare providers and community partners to both improve child care quality and measure levels of quality to help with parents’ choice.
 
The project is a step toward the design and implementation of a statewide voluntary Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) that would provide educators and programs with an opportunity to improve the quality of care they provide to children, while giving parents easy access to information on child care, preschool and school-ageprograms.
 
The Legislature earmarked $4.75 million in the 2007-2009 state operating budget for the design and implementation of these pilot programs.
 
Running through June 2008, the Spokane QRIS project will draw together the knowledge and resources of a large number of Spokane area organizations to determine standards for the quality of care in early learning programs.
 
The InlandNorthwest Alliance for Early Learning—a coalition of local educational and human service organizations that includes AHEC—will oversee the planning process, which involves gathering input from student-parents enrolled at Community Colleges of Spokane, Eastern Washington University, and WSU Spokane, as well as from licensed care providers in the Spokane area.
 
Contingent on continuing funding from the state, the health educations center will partner with Community Minded Enterprises/Family Care Resources to implement the system starting in July 2008. Looking ahead to the implementation phase, the Spokane QRIS project is also involving Community Colleges of Spokane, Eastern Washington University and WSU Spokane as partners that can help improve care.
 
“Higher education has significant resources available that can effectively increase the capacity of child care providers to improve their quality through education, focused mentoring, and support services,” said Chris Blodgett, director of AHEC and principal investigator on the project.
 
Emphasizing the mutual benefits of the relationship, he said that higher education institutions would benefit through increased opportunities for student training and faculty and student research involving young children.
 
The health education center’s leadership role in the Spokane QRIS project builds on its experience conducting research related to early childhood learning through the Child and Family Research Unit, which became part of AHEC earlier this year. In fact, much of AHEC’s proposal to the state is based on outcomes from two earlier projects that examined child care needs in Spokane’s student population.
 
In another project that is currently underway, the Tiered Reimbursement Pilot Project, AHEC is collaborating with Community Minded Enterprises/Family Care Resources to look at the effectiveness of financial incentives to improve quality of care.
 
“Research has shown that the return on investment from dollars spent on early learning is extraordinarily high,“ said AHEC research associate Myah Houghten. “Through the QRIS project, we’re able to support students by giving them access to quality care so they can finish their education, thereby contributing to the development of a productive workforce and a healthy economy.”
 
About AHEC
The Area Health Education Center (AHEC) of Eastern WSU Spokane focuses on the education, training, recruitment and retention of health professionals for rural and underserved communities. In addition, AHEC encompasses the Child and Family Research Unit (CAFRU), which performs theoretical, service outcome and public policy research that contributes to improved quality of life for children and their families.
 
Through partnerships with community organizations, CAFRU has received extensive grant funding that has enabled the unit to integrate the university’s research agenda with program development needs of the greater Spokane community. Funded areas of study have includedearly childhood education services development, domestic violence, and reduction of children’s exposure to violence.