Louisiana: Quality Start Child Care Rating System

Dec 02, 2011


Louisiana Quality Start Child Care Rating System is a voluntary quality rating and improvement system (QRIS) for all licensed child care in Louisiana, which includes child care centers, Head Start and Early Head Start programs. Family child care, which is not licensed in the state, is not included in the QRIS. Quality Start was developed by a steering committee consisting of representatives from various state agencies and stakeholders, including the state\'s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), the Office of Public Health, and the Tulane Institute of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health. Its design and implementation was a major focus of the state\'s early childhood initiative, BrightStart, which in 2009 was designated as the state\'s early childhood advisory council. With funding from the Child Care and Development Block Grant, Quality Start was implemented statewide in 2007. DCFS oversees Quality Start but contracts with Tulane to provide several components of the QRIS, such as the Environment Rating Scales assessments and mental health consultations.

Participating providers earn points for achieving certain standards and qualifications. Based on points earned, providers are given a quality rating of up to five stars. Quality Start offers training and incentives to child care providers to help them move towards higher star ratings. As of July 2010, 37 percent out of approximately 1,800 providers were enrolled. To achieve higher star ratings, providers serving infants and toddlers must meet higher standards for infant/toddler care.

Star Ratings

Quality Start participants are rated from 1 to 5 stars by earning points in four areas: program, staff qualifications, administration practices, and family and community involvement. Depending on the number of points earned and in which areas, the following ratings are awarded:

  • 1 star - A one-star rating indicates that the center has a license in good standing and no outstanding deficiencies.
  • 2 stars - A two-star rating indicates that the center staff has received more specialized training, and the center has completed a self-assessment plan. Programs must also meet all the standards for 1 star and be in operation for six months.
  • 3-5 stars - A three- to five-star rating indicates the center provides quality child care based on staff qualifications and the Environment Rating Scales (ERS).

After achieving two stars, a program may decide to meet the requirements for a higher star rating. To do this, a center must maintain all requirements of the two star rating and earn points in the program and staff qualifications areas. At least one point must be earned in each of these two areas.  A "quality point," essentially a bonus point, may also be earned by meeting additional criteria. For instance, a program that offers staff benefit options and fulfills some other administrative requirements may earn a "quality point".

Process for Attaining Star Ratings

All participating providers must undergo an Environment Rating Scale (ERS) assessment. This includes at least one unannounced assessment in which one-third of a provider\'s classrooms must be assessed. In addition, providers must complete a licensing review for zero deficiencies and/or complaints and a fraud review. Providers investigated for abuse of public assistance programs, such as child care, may not receive a star rating.

To move beyond the one-star rating, providers must complete a two-five star application, along with the results of a center self-assessment and a center improvement plan. Once the application is received, an assigned child care quality start specialist (CCQSS) will request a staff qualifications audit and schedule a verification visit in which the following components are reviewed:

  • Quality Start Portfolio
  • Center Self Assessment
  • Center Improvement Plan
  • Child-Staff Ratio
  • Classroom Environment Rating Scale (ERS) Self Assessments
  • Transition Procedure
  • Screening for Social-Emotional Development
  • Plan for Continuity of Care
  • Louisiana\'s Early Learning Guidelines
  • Quality Point for 1 point (Optional) will review the additional areas: Administrative Practices, and Family and Community Involvement

For programs that serve infants and toddlers, at least one infant/toddler classroom must be observed with the Infant Toddler Environment Rating Scale - Revised (ITERS-R) and the social emotional subscale (ITERS-R Listening and Talking, Interaction and Program Structure). Ratings points are awarded based on results of the social emotional subscale and on the center\'s staff: child ratios and group sizes.

Incentives and Rewards

Quality Start offers two primary rewards and incentives:

  • Tiered bonus payment - Quality Start offers a quarterly tiered reimbursement to programs serving children in the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP). Programs at the two-star level may receive a 3 percent bonus payment above the standard child care reimbursement. The bonus increases up to a 20 percent bonus payment for participants at the highest five-star level.
  • School Readiness Tax Credit (SRTC) - Beginning in 2008, Louisiana started offering a refundable tax credit to child care centers participating in Quality Start. The size of the credit is based on the center\'s star level and the number of children being served who are in CCAP or are foster children in the custody of the Department of Children and Family Services. The tax credit per eligible child starts at $750 for a two-star program and goes up to $1,500 for a five-star program.
  • Louisiana Pathways Scholarship - Centers that participate in the Louisiana Pathways Child Care Career Development System are eligible to obtain scholarships for their teachers and staff that pay for a CDA credential, administrative training, or other college-level coursework.

Infant and Toddler Quality Levers

To achieve higher quality ratings, providers must meet higher standards for infant/toddler care. Quality Start includes several components for assessing the quality of care for infants and toddlers, including:

  • Continuity of care: To earn the maximum program points, providers must provide a plan for continuity of care for all children, birth to 36 months.
  • Infant/toddler early learning guidelines: To earn the maximum program points, participants must also implement Louisiana\'s Early Learning Guidelines and Program Standards: Birth through Three. Directors and all teachers must complete training on the guidelines.
  • Training on Environment Rating Scales (ERS): To earn at least three staff qualifications points, directors and all teachers must complete ERS training: three hours of introduction to ERS and three hours of understanding ERS training. ERS training includes preparation on the infant/toddler environment rating scale, ITERS-R.
  • Infant/toddler studies: To earn the maximum staff qualifications points, directors must have an Associate\'s degree in the care of young children, child development or related field, with specific coursework in infant/toddler care and the care of exceptional children or equivalent. The state has invested American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds in a variety of ways to improve the education and training of infant/toddler providers. These activities include expanding on-line options to help providers maintain child care licensing compliance and participate in the QRIS; piloting a statewide infant/toddler provider training project, Beginning with Babies, which contains a focus on social-emotional development; and developing more professional development opportunities related to the state\'s early learning guidelines.
  • Social Emotional Screening: Quality Starts requires that providers seeking at least three stars screen children for social-emotional development using a recommended instrument. This must be completed within 45 calendar days of enrollment and annually after that. Among the recommended instruments, infant/toddler programs may be assessed using the Brief Infant-Toddler Social Emotional Assessment (BITSEA).

In addition, programs must participate in a required training session called An Overview of Social-Emotional Screening in Child Care Settings. This session explains the reasons for screening young children and the tools to use. The session also discusses how to talk to parents about this important topic. To earn at least three staff qualifications points, directors and lead teachers must complete training on social-emotional screening of children. Programs in which all teachers complete training on social-emotional screening earn more points.

Technical Assistance and Supports for QRIS Participants

Louisiana offers technical assistance and support to QRIS participants through specially trained specialists and consultants. These professionals provide guidance on the QRIS process as well as on program content and best practices. Providers may also turn to local resources for assistance on making quality improvements. Among the services and supports available to providers:

  • Child Care Quality Start Specialists - These professionals explain the process for attaining star ratings and help ensure provider compliance with Quality Start requirements. The specialists supervise the audit, analysis, and evaluation of child care centers and make recommendations regarding the system. The Quality Start specialists will work with providers to ensure a smooth and efficient audit process. Services provided by the specialists include:
    • ERS practice assessments, specifically ECERS-R and  ITERS-R. 
    • Pre-application staff qualifications review for applications for two-five stars (One pre-application review is available for each center and may streamline the staff qualifications audit process)
  • Mental health consultants (MHC) - These consultants provide technical assistance and support to select providers on social emotional development, screening, and effective practice. The consultants offer 12 site visits over six months. Larger centers (those with more than six classes) count as two centers and receive weekly visits.
  • Inclusion specialists - Available regionally, these specialists provide technical assistance and support on including children with special needs in regular classes. On average, six site visits are conducted over six months.
  • Local child care resource and referral (CCR&R) staff - The Louisiana Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (LACCRRA) works with regional CCR&R agencies to support providers and coordinate services. Funded by the state\'s Department of Social Services, services offered by the local agencies include consumer education and referrals to child care, data collection, training of child care providers, technical assistance and advocacy. On average, 3 site visits are conducted over 3 months.

Impacts of Quality Start and Lessons Learned

The state is just beginning to develop quality impact measures. In general, however, the state has found that programs are developing and improving over time. Currently, 12 percent of centers participating in the system are at three stars or above. According to the state, since the QRIS began in 2007, more providers have moved from one star (basic licensing) to two, and recently there has been more movement from two to three or above. Providers usually score lower on the infant/toddler scales than the preschool ones. The state maintains intentionality in coordinating its efforts around licensing, QRIS and professional development system-building, and keeping infants and toddlers as an important component throughout.

Louisiana finds that maintaining the QRIS model unchanged for five years, was helpful for programs to learn the rules and have time to become familiar with the standards between the one-star and higher star ratings.



Gail Kelso, Executive Director, Child Development & Early Learning Section
Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services
E-mail: gail.kelso@la.gov       
Phone: 225-342-0694


[1]Karen Schulman and Helen Blank, Supporting State Child Care Efforts with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Funds, National Women\'s Law Center, 2010.

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