By Camille Lachar-Lofaro, MA ECE | March 27, 2018
The Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) recently announced an increased investment in quality child care. This is great news! As I begin my new role as an AzAEYC board member, I couldn’t be more pleased with this announcement and the ensuing excitement among the early childhood community here in Arizona.
Why this is such a major step forward? It’s simple. This DES investment in accreditation for early learning environments will have a strong and very positive impact on young children, their families, and communities across our state.
About DES Investment in Accreditation
DES, the lead agency for the Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) contracts with early childhood providers to offer child care services to children of low income working families who qualify for child care subsidies as well as children in the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) system.
Beginning April 1, 2018 this DES investment will offer an increased reimbursement to nationally accredited child care providers of 20% from the previous rate of 10%. This will also include Quality First programs, with 4-star programs receiving 10% and 5-star programs receiving 20%.
Most of us in the field of early care and education understand the powerful message behind this increased reimbursement. We are excited to see quality child care receive the recognition and value it deserves.
Let’s talk NAEYC Accreditation
Child care centers where administration and staff are committed to offering high quality child care can become nationally accredited through several organizations. The NAEYC Accreditation process begins with a self-study stage where a program will use a tool provided by NAEYC to evaluate themselves. The self-study process is not only getting the program ready for the accreditation site visit where a professional visits and assesses the program; but also provides the center with a path for program improvement.
Achieving NAEYC Accreditation is a four-step process that involves self-reflection and quality improvement in order to meet and maintain accreditation over a five-year period. Directors, teachers, and families all participate in the process. Programs are required to meet standards grouped into 10 areas:
Standard 1: Relationships
Standard 2: Curriculum
Standard 3: Teaching
Standard 4: Assessment of Child Progress
Standard 5: Health
Standard 6: Staff Competencies, Preparation, and Support
Standard 7: Families
Standard 8: Community Relationships
Standard 9: Physical Environment
Standard 10: Leadership and Management
NAEYC Accreditation helps families recognize quality early learning programs and feel comfortable knowing that their children are receiving a high-quality, research-based education that will prepare them for future success. Currently, in Arizona, there are 72 NAEYC accredited programs.
Find an Arizona NAEYC Accredited program.
Additional Accreditation Options
Steps to national accreditation can differ across various accrediting organizations. Listed below are some of the other major organizations offering accreditation for early learning programs:
Family child care providers (someone who cares for children in a private home can seek accreditation by the National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC).
Another volunteer system that programs can be a part of is Arizona’s quality rating and improvement system Quality First. Like national accreditation, but on a state-wide level, programs are assessed by trained observers using different research-based tools and a star rating is awarded.
Why Accreditation should matter… to all of us
The latest research now shows the importance of brain development during the first five years of life. According to the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, in the early years more than one million new neural connections are formed every second. It’s the most active period for establishing neural connections, laying the foundation for language and literacy development. Emotional well-being and social competence provide a strong foundation for emerging cognitive abilities. From birth through age 5, a foundation is built for success in school, the workplace, and in the larger community.
The Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy, a leading policy analysis and advocacy organization, reports that high-quality early care and education programs can have lasting positive effects such as greater school success, higher graduation rates, lower juvenile crime, decreased need for special education services later, and lower adolescent pregnancy rates.
SO, parents may ask…what exactly is a “Quality” program?
Now with this knowledge, let’s say you’re a parent looking for child care and you want a quality program. How do you know what to look for? What does quality look like in an early childhood setting? Signs of quality can vary from program to program but the guiding principles should be the same; a safe, healthy, nurturing, developmentally appropriate environment with trained professionals who foster the physical, cognitive, language, social and emotional development of young children along with a trusting open partnership with the families of the children they serve.
So now, you, the parent, with an understanding of what to look for in a quality program, can make an informed decision when choosing a child care program. This is something that’s very important to you because it directly impacts you and your family.
But what about the person that isn’t looking for child care? It’s not a service they need now, or soon. Why should they care?
To answer this question, let’s go back to the research from the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child. Economists show a range of returns between $4 and $9 for every dollar invested in early learning programs for low-income children. Evidence of reduced special education, welfare, and crime costs, and increased tax revenues from program participants later in life contributed to these returns. So, KUDOS to the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) for seeing the long-term picture and for this DES investment in quality child care!
So, whether you’re a parent-to-be, parent of many, not a parent at all, or just a member of your community, remember — all of society benefits from investments in early care and education programs.
New York, New York!
As a newcomer to Arizona by way of New York State, I find I do a great deal of comparing the programs and systems here with what I am familiar with back in New York where I worked in the field for almost 30 years.
When I became a board member of the Suffolk AEYC (a chapter of NYAEYC), I took on the role of Accreditation Chair. I had the opportunity to work with programs seeking accreditation. Additionally, in my full-time job as a trainer, I’ve assisted over 20 programs in New York to successfully achieve NAEYC accreditation. In a few weeks, I’ll be returning to present Accreditation Boot Camp with my New York colleagues.
You might be thinking, “Boot camp? That sounds serious!” Well, accreditation is serious. I will be presenting to approximately 50 early care and education providers who are committed to achieving the status of NAEYC accreditation for their program. I will be guiding participants through a three-hour journey covering the four step NAEYC accreditation process, offering recommendations, answering questions and brainstorming strategies to achieve success.
When the news broke here in Arizona about the DES investment, I was so proud that I could call my New York colleagues and brag about Arizona’s commitment to quality. My long history in this field has always focused around quality. As a teacher I was always envious of the people attending the NYAEYC State Conference who wore a ribbon that read, “My program is NAEYC accredited.”
Before I knew it, I too was one of those privileged attendees proudly wearing that ribbon. And my passion for quality won’t stop there. I look forward to serving AzAEYC as your treasurer and I plan to continue to work hard to help early learning programs raise quality in Arizona!
Camille Lachar-Lofaro serves as Treasurer for the AzAEYC Board of Directors and is a member of the Board’s Accreditation Committee. She is looking forward to recognizing and congratulating NAEYC accredited centers in person as she explores the state of Arizona.