|Checking in on child care centers|
July 18, 2003
The University's Marian Wright Edelman Institute is collaborating with the City of San Francisco's departments of Human Services and Children, Youth and Families, City College and several other child-focused agencies to assess and ultimately improve more than 200 day care facilities across the city.
The Partners in Quality Child Care Initiative is a comprehensive approach to improve child care centers and the skills, knowledge and career paths for professional caregivers. This contract is the first between the Edelman Institute -- which focuses on children and families -- and the city. Supporters emphasize that this newly created evaluation process is not the result of a crisis in child care but instead a thoughtful, collaborative attempt to work closely with providers in creating better environments for children.
Ten assessors experienced in early childhood development have fanned out across San Francisco and observed day care centers and in-home facilities where providers watch children between the ages of several months and 5 years old. On average each assessor will spend about 12 hours in a center by first observing the setting, then drawing up an action plan and later reviewing possible improvements with the provider or center director. So far assessors have visited about 85 centers and facilities.
Assessors rate each center on quality assurance by using a nationally recognized scale developed by early childhood advocate Thelma Harms, who now teaches at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. They were trained at UCLA where faculty researchers are well-versed in the Harms method. Some assessors are fluent in Cantonese and Spanish in addition to English, enabling them to communicate with providers who speak those languages.
The centers under review were selected by the city and chosen because they're already involved in other improvement programs such as increasing pay for child care workers.
In preparation of the assessment by each assessor, staff members at the child care centers attended City College classes on the Harms scales and performed self-evaluations. Centers are reviewed on everything from how many children's books are available to cleanliness of the facility to parent communication to developing age-appropriate activities.
Already, assessors are impressed with what they've seen.
"We've been finding very good quality assurance at the centers," said project coordinator David Fleishman, whose background is in early childhood education and who formerly worked for the New York-based National Center for Learning Disabilities. "The directors are invested in providing quality care and they're happy to have our support."
In fact, one provider recently confided to an assessor that before the visit she was ready to shut the door on her business.
"I was a little burned out and had a few challenging parents about six months ago," she said. "It was great to get feedback and know that we are doing a good job. I may not close so soon. Thank you."
Assessments on all 200 centers must be completed by Dec. 31. With thousands of day care facilities in San Francisco, the program reaches only a small portion but supporters are hopeful that eventually a majority of facilities will be evaluated.
Once the visits are complete, the University's Public Research Institute will work with the Edelman Institute to collect data, identify results and ultimately develop policy to improve child care facilities.
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