Child-care provider Kathy Wolfe of rural Minot was attracted by the promise of one-on-one coaching to enlist in Bright & Early North Dakota, a new state program focused on early childhood development.
Wolfe is among Ward County participants in Bright & Early, which is being rolled out in Cass, Stutsman, Ward and Williams counties by the North Dakota Department of Human Services. The program celebrates early childhood programs that offer quality care, and it assists providers in making strides toward improving their programs and achieving standards of care.
Wolfe looks forward to gaining insights and advice from a trained child-care consultant who will be assisting her.
"It's a great learning experience. It's great feedback. They are not here to criticize you. They are here to help you," she said.
Child-care providers also can receive grant dollars to purchase educational toys and materials for their programs, bonus awards for achieving program goals and recognition for achieving and maintaining levels of quality in addition to licensing. The Department of Human Services is partnering with Child Care Aware to provide Bright & Early North Dakota as a voluntary program for licensed child-care providers.
In Ward County, 25 providers, or 27 percent of all licensed providers in the county, attended the informational session held in January, said Erica Kindem, Bright & Early coordinator.
According to the National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families, 90 percent of a child's brain development happens before the child enters kindergarten. Most of that development happens in the first three years. That's 1,825 days before a child enters kindergarten that are critical for education, Kindem said.
"We know that children need quality child care and preschool programs to thrive," she said. "Bright & Early is here to give providers tools to provide that quality care. We know that quality care can be difficult to spot. Bright & Early is here to help parents find quality care as well."
A website at (www.brightnd.org) has information to help parents spot quality care and lets providers access information about the program to see whether it might be for them.
The program highlights health and safety, interactions, availability of materials and equipment and qualifications of staff and management.
"They get a roadmap that outlines four steps that research shows prepare children for school," Kindem said. "When they enter school ready, they are more likely to be on target in third grade, and there's a direct correlation between third-grade reading skills and graduation from high school."
For every dollar that's invested into child care and education, there's about a $10 return, she said.
The Department of Human Services has designated $4.1 million, appropriated by the 2013 Legislature, to quality enhancement of child care. Of that amount, about $1.2 million is allocated to Bright & Early.
Bright & Early will expand to other regions of the state over the next two years. The state chose to initiate the program in Cass County, where a similar pilot program already exists, and in Stutsman County, where an already interested group of child-care providers exists, said Jennifer Barry, early childhood services director with the department.
Ward and Williams were selected because of the need to address capacity issues, she said. The department is interested in seeing if Bright & Early can be a provider retention and recruitment tool.
The pilot program in Cass County has allowed for a rating system for providers. Although that is not a focus of Bright & Early at this time, the goal is to eventually have a rating system to recognize the efforts that providers are making in quality of services, Barry said.
"Nationally, we have seen this movement for quite some time for states to adopt these systems of quality indicators," she said.