Indiana: Paths to QUALITY Infant/Toddler Specific Standards
Aug 19, 2010 | Child Care and Early Education
The Indiana quality rating and improvement system (QRIS), Paths to QUALITY, is a statewide voluntary system that includes infant and toddler standards and is designed for licensed child care centers, licensed family child care homes, and unlicensed registered faith-based organizations. Paths to QUALITY is based on a model developed during the mid- to late-1990s by the Child Care and Early Education Partnership, a collaboration of philanthropic organizations, businesses, and other stakeholders in the Fort Wayne area. From 2000 to 2005, county-based efforts to implement QRIS models spread across the state with the support of local community foundations. In 2006, the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA), Bureau of Child Care formed a State Child Care Quality Rating System Advisory Group to discuss the possible implementation of a statewide QRIS.
After reviewing potential QRIS models, the advisory group selected Paths to QUALITY, given the success of its pilot programs. As a final step, the state worked to ensure Paths to QUALITY alignment with Head Start Program Performance Standards and the state's early learning guidelines, Foundations to the Indiana Academic Standards for Young Children from Birth to Age Five. The guidelines distinguish the care of infants and toddlers from preschool-age children with separate standards for children birth to age 3 and ages 3 to 5. In 2007, the Bureau signed a licensing agreement with the Early Childhood Alliance (ECA) to implement Paths to QUALITY. Initial funding came from the quality set-aside of the Child Care and Development Block Grant, mostly by re-aligning funding that was going to existing quality enhancement projects. Statewide rollout of Paths to QUALITY began in January 2008 and was completed in January 2009.
The Paths to QUALITY Framework
The state advisory group refined Paths to QUALITY for statewide implementation based on findings from the pilot initiatives in Northeast and Southwest Indiana as well as input from multiple stakeholders. Paths to QUALITY is based on a four-level system representing progressively higher quality care:
- Level One: Health and safety
- Level Two: Learning environment
- Level Three: Planned curriculum
- Level Four: National accreditation
Providers may get information about Paths to QUALITY and sign up to participate at their local child care resource and referral (CCR&R) agency. Once signed up, providers have two options to choose from to work towards improving the quality of their programs-working with a mentor or self-study. (Less than 10 percent of providers choose self-study.)
» Assessing Provider Quality
Paths to QUALITY raters are separately contracted and trained by the state to assess programs. These raters are independent of the mentors, although both work through the Indiana Bureau of Child Care. The Bureau's Paths to QUALITY advisory group ensures that the raters and mentors are aligned with each other. Program assessments are scheduled, and recertification is required on an annual basis. In requesting an assessment, programs encounter components, which include:
- Assessment of each age group in care: During an assessment, a rater reviews a third of classrooms from every age group represented, including infants and toddlers. Thus, a provider must ensure that standards for all age groups are met.
- Meeting all standards in each level: Paths to QUALITY is based on a pass/fail system. In order to pass, all the standards of a level must be met, including requirements of any levels below it.
- Maintenance of standards: Providers must be able to maintain the standards of a given level for a minimum of 6 months before requesting another evaluation to move up to a higher level.
Overall, the state has found that providers are generally prepared going into a program evaluation. As of June 2010, a total of 1,901 providers have enrolled in the program (although many have not yet received a rating visit to determine whether they qualify for a level above Level One, which is licensing compliance). Among the participants, 1,073 providers have completed a rating visit either for annual recertification or for a level increase. Of these 1,073, only 13 have failed a rating visit.
» Incentives for Providers
At each Paths to QUALITY level, participants receive provider benefits. These benefits vary according to the level achieved:
- Level One: All providers who enroll in Paths to QUALITY initially receive a non-cash Participation Incentive.
- Levels Two and Three: In Levels Two and Three, additional one-time, non-cash incentives are awarded to providers. Furthermore, providers at Level Three who are moving towards accreditation are eligible for financial and technical assistance from the Indiana Accreditation Project run by the Indiana Association for the Education of Young Children (IAEYC).
- Level Four: Providers who achieve this level, the highest Paths to QUALITY rating, receive a one-time cash award ranging from $500 to $1,500 depending on the type and capacity of the facility. In addition, they receive an Annual Level 4 Accreditation Maintenance Award for maintaining accreditation and Level Four standards. While not tied to the QRIS, providers that accept child care subsidies and have reached Level Four must be accredited, therefore making them eligible for a 10 percent higher reimbursement rate through the state's Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) Voucher program. Currently, 148 providers have reached Level Four. Of these providers, 111 accept subsidies.
Specific Infant/Toddler Standards
Paths to QUALITY addresses the quality of care for infants and toddlers at all levels. Features in Paths to QUALITY that aim to improve infant/toddler care include:
» Level One: Health and Safety Standards for Infant/Toddler Care
At level one, providers must meet the basic health and safety standards and practices required in licensing or the Voluntary Certification Program (VCP). VCP is a program for unlicensed, registered faith-based organizations that focuses on improving program quality in four areas: safety; health; food and nutrition; and infant and toddler care. Both licensing and VCP policies require infant/toddler providers to meet certain standards on:
- Diapering and hand sanitation procedures
- Safe sleep practices
- Continuity of care practices (assignment of a primary caregiver to an infant from the time of entering care until at least 30 months of age)
» Levels Two - Four: Infant/Toddler Indicators for Learning Environment and Curricula
Beginning with level two, Paths to Quality was developed to align with the state's early learning guidelines, which lay out what young children, from birth to age 5, may be expected to know and do. Paths to QUALITY lays out the types of interactions and learning environments that a program should demonstrate and focuses on improving provider/teacher-child interactions and school readiness. Recognizing that very young children have different developmental needs than preschool-age children, separate indicators for infant/toddler care are provided at each level. The infant/toddler indicators cover a broad scope of issues, including:
- Provider/child interactions
- Daily schedules
- Materials and activities
- Curriculum appropriate for infants and toddlers
Supports for Infant/Toddler Providers
Providers can have a mentor, trained by their local CCR&R, assist them in navigating the Paths to QUALITY system and meeting the requirements of each level. Under a mentor's guidance, a provider creates a level advancement plan, which is entered into a web-based case management system. The mentors work to ensure that providers have the supports and services that they need to move up the system. For infant/toddler providers, a mentor may refer to an infant-toddler specialist if she or he sees that special assistance is needed. All mentors go through a checklist with their provider to determine if the provider is ready to be assessed for a higher quality rating. Once a provider achieves Level Three in Paths to QUALITY, a quality advisor from the Indiana Association for the Education of Young Children (IAEYC) takes over the role of the mentor and assists the provider in moving towards accreditation, a key requirement for Level Four.
Infant/Toddler Provider Participation
A substantial proportion of providers in the state participate in Paths to QUALITY. Many of these providers also serve children receiving child care subsidies; overall, about three-quarters of subsidies go to licensed care. Among all providers currently enrolled in Paths to QUALITY (whether having received a rating review or not):
- 465 are licensed center-based providers, about 78 percent of all licensed centers in the state.
- 1,408 are licensed family child care providers, about 51 percent of all licensed child care homes in the state.
- 28 are unlicensed, registered faith-based organizations, about 4 percent of all such organizations in the state.
- 1,822 providers accept child care subsidies, about 39% percent of all providers who accept subsidies in the state. More than half of children receiving subsidies attend a Paths to QUALITY provider.
Providers in Paths to QUALITY also serve a large share of infants and toddlers in the state. Most infant/toddler care occurs in family child care homes. Among infant/toddler providers in the quality rating system:
- 81% are family child providers.
- 18 % are center-based providers.
- 1% are faith-based organizations.
Evaluation of Paths to QUALITY
Purdue University signed a five-year, federally-funded contract with FSSA to assess whether Paths to QUALITY has an impact on improving child care quality. In 2007, the university released a preliminary assessment of the scientific validity of Paths of QUALITY standards, including a review of results from the pilots in Northeast and Southwest Indiana. Overall, the preliminary assessment found that if implemented with care and accountability, the Paths to QUALITY model showed promise in improving the quality of child care in the state. Among the assessment's findings:
- Northeast Indiana pilot: 67 percent of providers moved up at least one level in the system.
- Southwest Indiana pilot: 36 percent of providers moved up at least one level, while 22 percent moved up more than one level.
Statewide rollout of Paths to QUALITY occurred in waves and was completed in January 2009. The final evaluation is expected to include a comparison of Paths to QUALITY levels to assessments on environmental rating scales. It will also include measurement of family awareness levels of the program, a snapshot view of the children in a variety of Paths to QUALITY provider levels, and a review of the barriers to level advancement for providers.
Given that most participating providers started at Level One, Perdue University is waiting to obtain sufficient sample sizes at all levels to do a full evaluation of the system. Evaluations of the statewide rollout will also be completed when more data becomes available.
Indiana Child Care Administrator
Associate Professor of Developmental Studies and Director of Early Childhood Programs
Child Development and Family Studies
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