County's child-care evaluated

Grant will help identify areas that need improvement

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— First Impressions of Routt County is evaluating Routt County's child-care facilities to identify areas that need improvement and help facilities implement those improvements through an Educare Colorado Grant.

With the $25,000 grant, First Impressions will divide funds and resources among the child-care centers depending on the needs of each facility, said Renee Donahue of First Impressions.

"The bottom line is we are trying to help kids do good in school and beyond," said Stacy Baum, vice president of communications at Educare Colorado.

When child-care facilities in Routt County are evaluated, they will receive a rating from one to four.

The Educare rating system is based on five categories, classroom environment, parent involvement, teacher credentials, adult/child ratios and the accreditation of the program.

Baum said all child-care facilities volunteered to participate in Educare Colorado's rating system because they are seeking to improve the quality of their facilities.

Tami Havener, executive director of the Family Development Center in Steamboat Springs, said the child-care facilities can decide if they want to release their ratings to the public. She said parents are encouraged to request guidelines from the Family Development Center on how to rate their child-care providers.

A goal of the Educare Colorado Grant is for parents to take an active role in assessing the quality of their child-care facilities and choose facilities that offer the best care.

If parents know what to look for in a quality facility, they will be more apt to select a school with high standards, Donahue said.

Educare Colorado is planning to publicize the ratings for all child-care centers participating in the program in 2003.

Havener said each center in Routt County already meets the minimum state standards required to be licensed. She said she hopes child-care facilities start performing above minimum standards, a goal of First Impressions and the Educare Colorado Grant.

Minimum requirements for a child-care facility include a staff to infant ratio of one to five, and staff to 4-year-old ratio of one to 12. Havener said improving quality child-care will require a decrease in the ratios, accreditation (which is not mandatory to be a licensed care provider) and an increase in the number of teachers with credentials and educational experience.

Donahue said having a greater number of early childhood educators with teaching credentials is hard to accomplish with low wages in early childhood education. She said it is difficult to receive grants for teacher wages because the grants are not sustainable.

"We have to take these little steps," she said.

Baum said having all staff members in a facility with some background in early childhood education is ideal for providing children with age-appropriate activities and care.

Getting a majority of Routt County child-care facilities to reach a four-star rating may take awhile, Donahue said, but will be easier to accomplish with the additional resources First Impressions will allocate through the Educare Colorado grant.

She said an educational specialist has already begun visiting classrooms to start the evaluation process.

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