Inside Gateways Newsletter—Fall 2010
Greetings! Welcome to the fall 2010 edition of Inside Gateways, the Gateways to Opportunity quarterly e-newsletter.
This issue of Inside Gateways might be called “Insight” if each newsletter had a descriptive name. The definition of insight is, according to Encarta Dictionary, “perceptiveness: the ability to see clearly and intuitively into the nature of a complex person, situation, or subject…a clear perception of something…the ability of somebody to understand and find solutions….”
In Voices from the Field, the insight gained by providers and center directors who elected to participate in the Quality Counts Quality Rating System (QRS) is easily perceived. As with many of life’s experiences, insight may be clearer in retrospect. April Washington, a licensed home provider; Kathleen Glenn, a license-except home provider; and Sheila Henson, a center director, all gained new insight and fresh perspective on high-quality practices through their participation in the QRS. Working in the field of early care and education, building strong relationships with children and families, providing high-quality services—these are the goals of practitioners, such as April, who says, “Don’t you want the best for your own day care children?” Programs such as the QRS benefit children, families, and providers through a positive impact on program quality.
Inside Gateways has a revised format and design, and it includes a brand new feature—the Big Picture in Illinois. This most recent addition to the newsletter will help readers gain insight into what is happening in the field of early care and education in Illinois. Interviews with Linda Saterfield, chief of the Bureau of Child Care and Development within the Illinois Department of Human Services, and Shannon Christian, the new director of the Office of Early Childhood Development, are featured. Find out how their past experiences and work with various Councils provide insight that influences the field of early childhood.
At multiple levels in Illinois, from the bureau chief to an in-home provider, the goal is to increase high-quality programs and services for children and families. As Lilian Katz notes in her article, each of us makes a range of decisions every day. By developing greater insight, we increase our repertoire of responses and improve our decision-making skills. Insight requires reflection, integration of new knowledge, interpretation of data, and/or observation. The early childhood landscape here in Illinois is constantly evolving and changing, providing opportunities to gain fresh insight into the complexity of early care and education. Greater insight can lead to higher-quality programs and services, benefiting everyone.
November 2010 is a significant election year in Illinois. Do you know where the candidates stand on important early care and education issues? Do the candidates' records match their stated positions? There is still time to find out more about those who will be elected to critical state and federal offices. The League of Women Voters site has information about candidates for office and upcoming candidate meetings. You owe it to yourself and the children you serve to be informed and to select candidates who will support the programs and services you believe in. Who we elect to guide our state must confront the harsh reality of limited economic resources and multiple, competing priorities. Newly elected representatives and officials will demonstrate their insight into early care and education by the choices they make on our behalf in the coming years. These decisions will likely affect children, families, and early childhood services for decades to come. Be informed, make a choice, and most importantly, remember to vote on November 2.
Thank you for all that you do for children and families, every day.
Joni Scritchlow and
Your Gateways to Opportunity
Professional Development Team
Quality Counts Quality Rating System (QRS)
The Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) implemented the Quality Counts Quality Rating System (QRS) in 2007. QRS is a voluntary system for early childhood and school-age care providers whose programs meet specific indicators of high-quality child care. Providers who meet QRS criteria are awarded a certificate. Providers caring for children who are eligible for state child care assistance also receive an add-on to the standard reimbursement rate to help pay for the higher costs of offering high-quality care. Participation in QRS means that a child care provider or center program has gone the extra mile to make sure that children in their care are receiving an enhanced learning and care experience. Quality Counts QRS is funded by IDHS and administered by the Illinois Network of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (INCCRRA). To learn more about QRS eligibility and the QRS application process, contact INCCRRA.
This issue of Inside Gateways includes stories from child care providers in three programs who recently completed the Quality Counts QRS process and explores how they and the children and families in their programs benefited as a result of the experience. Sheila Henson is the director of Brown Bear Daycare and Learning Center in Harvard, Illinois. The center received a QRS Star Level 2 in fall 2009.
Quality Counts Quality Rating System (QRS): Licensed Center
Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (IDCFS) licensed centers and school-age programs can achieve four QRS Star Levels. For each Star Level, the child care learning environment is evaluated by an independent assessor. In addition to the learning environment assessment, a percentage of center staff need to exceed IDCFS licensing standards for formal education at each Star Level. At higher Star Levels, the quality of program management is evaluated by an independent assessor. National accreditations are recognized at these levels.
Inside Gateways (IG) talked to Sheila Henson (SH) about her center’s experience earning the QRS Star Level 2.
IG: What convinced you to go through the Quality Counts QRS process?
SH: I heard about the QRS process and initially decided to pass on the opportunity. It seemed like a lot of work, and I felt our center program was doing a good job. My thinking started to shift, however, as I heard more from other center directors in my area who were going through the process. The financial benefit from completing the QRS process is a great bonus, but it was the experiences I heard about from others that pushed me to look more closely at QRS for our center.
IG: What was the QRS experience like?
SH: The experience was hard. We have a large child care program—250 children and about 40 staff. It takes our program a couple meetings to get everyone on board with any major initiative such as this one. I first met with my administrative staff about the QRS process. They helped me take it to the next level with the entire staff. I selected some key staff to research each section of the QRS. They were then responsible for implementing their component. Although it wasn’t required, I asked all my staff to attend the initial four-hour Environment Rating Scale training. I felt that all my staff needed to hear about the process directly from the trainers and have an opportunity to have their concerns and questions addressed directly. This helped with staff buy-in a lot. Typically, when I introduce a centerwide initiative such as this, I have a few naysayers. That was not the case this time because all staff recognized the value of the QRS process and the financial impact on them and the center upon successful completion. It took us about a year to complete the process and to feel we were ready for our QRS assessment. We were on pins and needles waiting for the assessors to come. We had hoped to receive a Star Level 3, but we received a Star Level 2. We intend to apply for the Star Level 3 in the future.
IG: How has the QRS experience benefited you and the children and families in your program?
SH: I talked to family members afterward, particularly those who had been with us since we opened the center 10 years ago. Many of those families told me that they always felt our program did a good job, but that they recognized improvements in our program after completing the QRS process. Over 85% of our center population is Hispanic. The QRS process helped us to make improvements in many of our approaches to integrating Hispanic culture and Spanish language into our curriculum. We also received some good PR from the local media when we completed the QRS process.
IG: What advice do you have for other centers considering the QRS process?
SH: My advice is to take baby steps, to break down the process. Call on the QRS Specialists* for assistance. They were very beneficial and helped to take some of the workload off of me. Don’t expect it to be an overnight process. It is a forever process. I remind my staff that we don’t stop working on the process just because we have achieved a QRS rating. We check ourselves every 3 months to be sure we are still making the grade. My only regret is that I did not go through the QRS process sooner.
Quality Counts Quality Rating System (QRS): Licensed Home Provider
Licensed family home child care providers can achieve four QRS Star Levels. For each Star Level, the child care learning environment is evaluated by an independent assessor. In addition, providers will need to meet or exceed IDCFS licensing standards for training and/or formal education at each Star Level. At higher Star Levels, the quality of business management is evaluated by an independent assessor. National accreditation (e.g., National Association for Family Child Care—NAFCC) is recognized at these levels.
Inside Gateways (IG) talked to April Washington (AW) about her experience receiving her QRS Star Level 3. April is a licensed home provider in Park Forest, Illinois. April also has a food sanitation license. She has been caring for children in her home for 7 years. She recently received her QRS Star Level 3.
IG: What convinced you to go through the Quality Counts QRS process?
AW: When I went through NAFCC accreditation last year, I was so impressed with their self-study process and how much it improved my own practice that I was motivated to do whatever I could to enhance my program. I learned about the QRS process, researched it online, and decided to go for it.
IG: What was the QRS experience like?
AW: It was a fun process. I am completing my master’s degree in early childhood and have been providing licensed care in my home for 7 years. I thought I had learned everything I needed to know to provide a high-quality program. The QRS process showed me that there is always more to learn. I learned better ways to set up my learning environment and more about age-appropriate learning materials. The process also encouraged me to start a lending library for families in my program.
IG: How has the QRS experience benefited you and the children and families in your care?
AW: The children have benefited from the improvements made to my child care environment, including the additional learning materials available to them. The 15% QRS quality bonus I receive helps to pay for higher-quality care, including replenishing learning materials for my program.
When I shared the letter I received upon completion of the QRS Star Level 3 with the parents in my program, they bragged about my accomplishment to others. My parents were also very impressed with the comprehensive learning environment evaluation booklet I used for QRS. There is a misconception that family child care providers are just babysitters. Completing the accreditation and the QRS processes demonstrates that is not the case.
IG: What advice do you have for others considering the QRS process?
AW: I recently encouraged another family child care provider to complete the QRS process. She worried it would be too overwhelming to do. I explained that the QRS process is flexible enough to accommodate different schedules and that the QRS Specialists* are very helpful and supportive. I said to this provider, “If your own child was in a family child care program, wouldn’t you want the best for them? Don’t you want the best for your own day care children? Well the QRS process is a way to provide the best.” She agreed and decided to go for it too.
Quality Counts Quality Rating System (QRS): License-Exempt Home Provider
License-exempt family child care providers can complete three QRS Training Tiers. Training at each Tier includes three-hour sessions from the Illinois Gateways to Opportunity Level 1 ECE Credential and covers health, safety, nutrition, child development, and much more. Up to 48 hours of training can be taken.
Inside Gateways (IG) talked to Kathleen Glenn (KG) about her experience receiving her QRS Training Tier 3. Kathleen is a license-exempt home provider in Belleville, Illinois. She has been caring for children in her home and in community child care programs for the past 19 years.
IG: What convinced you to get your Quality Counts QRS training award?
KG: I read about the QRS training classes in my local Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) agency newsletter. The classes looked interesting. Once my schedule permitted it, I decided to give them a try. I took one class and liked it a lot. Then I took another class and another class and another, and soon I had completed the requirements for Tier 3 of QRS. I really looked forward to those Monday QRS classes.
IG: How did the classes benefit you?
KG: I was able to use the information I learned from the classes right away. I learned about health and safety issues with young children and about social and emotional learning. There were sessions about the importance of hand washing and about how to help my preschooler who is a bit shy make friends more easily. The QRS class gave me some words to use to help this little boy play with others more successfully. I also met other providers in the QRS classes, some of whom lived in my own subdivision. We now converse together about day care issues and volunteer for activities together.
IG: What other benefits did you and your day care children and families receive from the QRS experience?
KG: When I completed the Training Tier 3 classes, I received age-appropriate books and toys to use in my day care program. I also received a quality bonus—a raise—in my payment rate for the IDHS Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) children in my day care program. Another benefit was having the staff from the CCR&R come to my home to give me new ideas, such as how to make the most out of reading books to children (the children love it when Sheri reads to them!) and how to help me set up my playroom more effectively. Their suggestions were very helpful. I continue to contact the CCR&R staff with my questions. Some weeks we talk nearly every day. The letter I received when I completed the QRS training helped my day care families understand what I had accomplished. I know they appreciated what I had done to increase the quality of my day care program.
IG: What do you plan to do next?
KG: I have completed the QRS training series. I feel prepared to go through the licensing process should I choose to in the future.
IG: Do you have any advice for others considering the QRS system?
KG: QRS is a very good program. I recommend that all providers who watch children take at least the Tier 1 QRS training classes.
*Quality Counts QRS Specialists can be contacted at your local Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) agency. To find a QRS Specialist, please visit www.inccrra.org/provider-assistance.
Some Reflections on Insight
Teaching young children involves constant decision making. Some of the decisions are simple—almost automatic: “Looks like this is the right time to go outside—or will it rain in the next few minutes?” “Should I let Jake finish his painting or tell him to come to group time now and to finish it later?” And so on and so on…
Many classroom decisions are probably based on routines and the normal schedule of activities that require little if any analysis or reflection. Teaching a lively group of preschoolers requires establishing routines, or the teacher could risk suffering from “analysis paralysis.” But many decisions are complex and have a range of implications for individual children as well as for the whole group. Such cases may benefit from some reflection, deeper analysis, and insight.
Much of the recent literature about teacher training and professional development focuses on what knowledge and skills teachers usually need. For example, in a recent publication, Neuman and Kamil (2010) note in their preface that there is increased awareness of the potential benefits of early education for children, but there must be efforts “to improve the quality of early education by enhancing the knowledge and skills of educators….” (p. xix). But the question of what knowledge and which skills constitute the basis for effective teaching is a very challenging one.
An example that comes to mind is a situation involving a 4-year-old girl who had been in a preschool class for several months and had never spoken during her time there. Her parents made it clear that she spoke quite normally for her age at home and when playing with children in the neighborhood. When her teacher told me about this problem, I asked her, “What have you tried so far?” To which she replied, “When I pass out the snacks every morning, I tell her that she can’t have a snack if she doesn’t ask for it with words, and she turns away. Or I sometimes tell her that she can’t play with a particular toy unless she asks for it with words.” This strategy had been used unsuccessfully for several months. And, by the way, it is based on knowledge of social learning theory that emphasizes the power of positive rewards to change behavior. I then suggested to the teacher that she could try saying to this 4-year-old something like, “I know you don’t want to say anything to me now. That’s OK. But when you feel ready to, I’ll be over there.” Within a week, that child was as verbally interactive in the setting as were her peers. The adults’ constant pressure on her to talk seemed to cause her “to dig in her heels” and to persist at resistance. Once the teacher relieved the pressure and offered her the initiative, the child relaxed and participated in the activities around her quite naturally.
Young children have control over very little—eating, speaking, and a few other basics—and some children exercise that control in such situations. The response that was suggested to the teacher was based not so much on knowledge of developmental norms or theories of stages of development but on insight into the extensive complexities of children’s responses in different contexts.
I think of insights as putting together, on a deep level, knowledge and hunches about several aspects of a decision-making situation. In the example of the child mentioned above, a teacher reflecting on what was happening might consider such factors as knowledge about children in general (e.g., norms and stages), what is known about that individual child, and what the teacher knows based on having a personal relationship with the child. It could also be helpful for the teacher to hypothesize about what other children could learn from their own observations and involvement.
The teacher who changed her approach to the girl who refused to speak in the preschool did have knowledge about the norms of development—she did know, for example, that the child’s refusal to speak in the preschool environment needed to be addressed. The strategy that the teacher was using was based on the common assumption that young children will adopt behaviors that are rewarded. What the teacher lacked was insight into the range of other possible causes and how her strategy most likely caused this particular child to “dig in her heels” and maintain her own power.
Helping teachers to reflect on how to resolve the predicaments they encounter is often accomplished by the use of case studies during their training or by interacting with coaches or mentors (see Neuman & Kamil) who share insights rather than just offering simple knowledge, skills, or techniques. Insights are understandings of complex phenomena that take into account a range of possible causes, effects, and implications of potential responses.
In sum, professional development may be best if, in addition to providing knowledge and skills, it also encourages the development of the disposition to suspend judgment of the events at hand, at least briefly—as long as all are safe—and through the processes of reflection, develop insights into their many possible causes and possible effective responses.
Neuman, Susan B., & Kamil, Michael L. (Eds.). (2010). Preparing teachers for the early childhood classroom: Proven models and key principles. Baltimore, MD: Brookes.
In this issue of Inside Gateways, we introduce the new state Office of Early Childhood Development and provide an overview of two other statewide councils that focus on early care and education in Illinois—the Child Care and Development Advisory Council and the Professional Development Advisory Council. Descriptions of additional statewide offices, councils, and boards will be included in future issues of Inside Gateways.
Office of Early Childhood Development
Shannon Christian (SC) is the director of the Office of Early Childhood Development (OECD), a new office that was established by executive order of the Governor in spring 2010. Shannon joined OECD on September 13, 2010, and talked to Inside Gateways (IG) about how the Office came into existence and what she hopes it can do for early care and education in Illinois.
IG: Can you tell us a little about your background and how you came to this position?
SC: I have been working on issues related to child development and family support for some time. Before coming to Illinois, I worked on welfare reform in Wisconsin for then-Governor Tommy Thompson. My work in Wisconsin led to my position as associate commissioner for the Child Care Bureau in the Administration for Children and Families from 2002–2006. The Child Care Bureau is the lead agency for child care for the federal government. In that position, I was responsible for managing the 5+-billion-dollar child care subsidy program, a block grant program to states to fund child care for eligible low-income working families and families in welfare-to-work programs. In addition, I spearheaded major pieces of the Administration’s early learning initiative. The key components of the early learning initiative were to encourage and support all states in developing evidence-based early learning standards for 3- and 4-year-olds; to help states develop statewide professional development plans that would help providers across all early childhood settings develop the skills, knowledge, and dispositions they need to support children’s development; and to help states promote collaboration across key programs and funding streams. My background seemed a natural fit with the new Office of Early Childhood Development in Illinois. Although I am a native of California, I have lived in the Midwest before and like it very much. I also have a twin sister in Chicago. It’s great to be living close to her again.
IG: How did the Office of Early Childhood Development come into existence?
SC: The office was established by executive order of Governor Quinn in the spring of 2010 in response to a recommendation by the Early Learning Council (ELC). (Note: The ELC will be featured in the winter issue of Inside Gateways.) The ELC was appointed by the Governor in 2003 to enhance, coordinate, and expand programs and services for children birth to 5 statewide. The ELC, which pulls together stakeholders from across the state, realized it would be helpful to have an office to carry out some of their recommendations. OECD was placed in the Office of the Governor to ensure its visibility and reinforce early childhood policy and system development as cross-agency issues that call for shared responsibility. Recent federal stimulus dollars were made available to states to create early learning councils to assist with collaboration across agencies and funding streams that support early learning. Deanna Durica has been the project manager in the Office since March, coordinating the work of the Early Learning Council, and I joined the Office as its director on September 13.
IG: What will the Office do for early care and education in our state?
SC: The Office of Early Childhood Development is tasked with shaping and coordinating the work of the ELC across agencies to build a state system that meets the needs of young children and their families. The Office will become a hub of information, linkages, and support to the enormous web of activity going on in Illinois to improve outcomes for children and families. That web of activity includes early care and education programs as well as other programs that support the full range of children’s development—health care, food and nutrition, economic supports, and parenting support programs.
IG: How will the Office of Early Childhood Development relate to other programs, offices, and efforts to address early care and education in Illinois?
SC: As I mentioned earlier, OECD will help to bring focus to the recommendations from the ELC and to move those recommendations forward. I’d like the ELC to include representatives from all of the major offices and initiatives that provide early learning and related services in Illinois, whether those programs are supported with state dollars, federal dollars, private dollars, or a combination of these.
Despite the economic challenges we face in Illinois and in the United States, these are exciting times in early care and education. Research tells us more and more about what children need to be successful in school and in life. We know that parents have the greatest impact, but the professional development of those who work with young children is also incredibly important to these long-term outcomes—and that exciting synergies exist between the two. It’s good to be part of this effort in Illinois.
Child Care and Development Advisory Council
Linda Saterfield (LS) is chief of the Bureau of Child Care and Development within the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) and the state administrator for Child Care and Development Fund. Linda began her state government career in 1978. She became the chief of the IDHS Bureau of Child Care and Development in 1998. Linda talked to Inside Gateways (IG) about the Child Care and Development Advisory Council to IDHS and the Professional Development Advisory Council.
IG: How did the Child Care and Development Advisory Council come into existence?
LS: Prior to welfare reform legislation enacted under President Clinton, low-income families in Illinois had to access child care through a network of contracted centers. Access to services and resources was limited. The passage of welfare reform legislation—known as the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996—authorized the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) to operate child care subsidy programs and improve the quality and availability of child care in the states.
In 1996, the then Illinois Department of Public Aid (DPA) appointed a 45-member Child Care and Development Fund Planning Committee to serve as an ad hoc committee. That ad hoc committee included a broad representation of early care providers, researchers, and advocates—those who had good knowledge of the current system. Their role was to advise DPA on how to design the new child care system in light of changes introduced through welfare reform and to present recommendations for inclusion the first Child Care Development Fund State Plan. Their first Child Care Report to the DPA was in February 1997.
DPA needed an ongoing source of public input to the new system and processes established through welfare reform legislation. When Governor Edgar created the Department of Human Services in 1997, which combined all or part of seven state agencies, the ad hoc committee became a standing body, which we know today as the Child Care and Development Advisory Council for IDHS.
IG: What does the Child Care and Development Advisory Council do for early care and education in our state?
LS: The Council advises IDHS on the child care programs they are providing. It meets four times a year and has three standing committees: (1) Program Administration (which focuses on our child care assistance program and policies and how they affect families and providers), (2) Quality Committee (which focuses on improving program quality and the role of the early care and education workforce in program quality), and (3) Collaboration Committee (which focuses on partnerships and how IDHS can work across programs in the state to better serve parents and children). The Council goes through a strategic planning process periodically to refocus its vision and goals based on the changing early care and education landscape.
IG: How does the Council relate to other programs, offices, and efforts to address early care and education in Illinois?
LS: There is currently a great deal of momentum around collaborations across programs in states. The Advisory Council makes recommendations to IDHS about how to align practices and promote policy changes with Head Start and state PreK that work better for children, families, and providers. For example, IDHS amended the Child Care Assistance Program policies so that child care providers would no longer be penalized, as in payment reduction, when children approved for full-day child care left their facilities to attend a part-day Head Start or PreK program.
Professional Development Advisory Council
IG: How did the Professional Development Advisory Council (PDAC) come into existence?
LS: The early stages of PDAC’s development came about through a Department of Labor grant to address professional development in Illinois in 2002. In December of that year, the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) Bureau of Child Care and Development created what we know today as PDAC to improve the quality of the early care and education workforce through increased professional development and improved opportunities for career advancement. In 2004, the McCormick Foundation provided additional funds to support PDAC’s work. The McCormick Foundation continues to support PDAC’s work today.
IG: What does PDAC do for early care and education in our state?
LS: In my view, PDAC is one of the best things we have going for early care and education in Illinois because of the way it evolved. PDAC works outside of any state bureaucracy, under the radar screen in a sense. PDAC devoted many years—and countless hours of meetings—to put in place an inclusive network of individuals who understand early care and education from various perspectives and who are passionate about professional development. PDAC includes highly qualified practitioners, educators, and advocates from around the state. Their work continues to amaze me. Through their administrative and committee structure, PDAC developed the Gateways to Opportunity professional development system, which was formally introduced statewide in March 2005. Gateways to Opportunity incorporates the important components of our state’s professional development system: the Career Lattice, which is built around core knowledge and competencies required for various career levels; Credentials offered at multiple levels of the Career Lattice as symbols of professional achievement; a Trainers Network to ensure high-quality and accessible trainings; and a Registry to recognize and validate trainers and trainings in Illinois.
A crucial piece of our early care and education infrastructure was created on January 21, 2010, when Governor Quinn signed legislation embedding Gateways Credentials into state law. My responsibility as chief of the Bureau of Child Care and Development is to build an infrastructure for early care and education in the state that is solid and will last for decades. PDAC’s work in general and this new public law in particular are key elements of that infrastructure.
IG: How does PDAC relate to other programs, offices, and efforts to address early care and education in Illinois?
LS: PDAC is very inclusive in its membership. Historically, anyone who wanted to be at the table was invited to do so. That remains true today. To ensure that various state early care and education efforts are pulling together and not duplicating work, PDAC is represented on the Early Learning Council (the Early Learning Council is discussed elsewhere in this issue) and on the IDHS Advisory Council. An example of how these collaborations have benefited the state professional development system occurred with the passage of the public law I mentioned. The Early Learning Council made the recommendation that we put the Gateways to Opportunity professional development system into state law, drafted the legislative language, and found a sponsor to bring it to passage. PDAC embodies the belief that we all share in the development and ownership of a strong early care and education professional development system. PDAC is one of our best examples of what occurs when we move outside of our individual silos to work toward common goals.
The following resource links have been added to the Web site since the last issue of Inside Gateways.
Parent Support Links
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)