Ensuring children have access to high-quality child care is not just a nice idea. The research is clear that children who have high-quality early learning and development opportunities experience greater success in school, relationships and life. This not only benefits the children, it's economically beneficial for our society as a whole.
High-quality programs employ nurturing, professional caregivers who are educated in early childhood learning and development. They maintain the highest level of safety and cleanliness in accordance with state and federal regulations, and offer a cheerful, child-centric environment that includes outdoor space. High-quality programming incorporates play-based activities that enrich and promote learning and development so children get the best preparation for life.
Vermont's Quality Recognition & Improvement System
Vermont has a system for measuring quality in child care programs, called the STep Ahead Recognition System, or STARS. Programs may participate in STARS on a voluntary basis. When a program earns 1 to 5 stars it shows they have gone above and beyond the state's requirements for licensing. Four- and five-star programs are considered high-quality by the state because they’ve committed to:
- Staying in compliance with state regulations
- Hiring and training qualified staff
- Strong engagement of the families using their program and their community as a whole
- Continually evaluating and improving their programming
- Establishing good business practices
Parents can look to STARS as an indicator of quality when choosing a child care program. However, that should not replace a personal visit to the program and getting to know the staff there.
High-Quality Requires an Investment
Just like with everything else in life, high-quality costs money. If we want our child care providers to be professionals who are well-educated in early learning and development, we need to pay them a livable wage for their incredibly important work. If we want the environments our children spend their days in to be clean and safe and provide stimulating activities like art supplies, sensory tables, books, climbing structures, child-sized furniture and outdoor space, our providers must make enough money to invest in their programs. If we want our children to be fed healthy meals and snacks throughout the day so they grow up healthy and develop good eating habits, providers must have the resources to supply good food.
However, we can't look to parents to foot the whole bill for high-quality child care. Middle-income parents in Vermont are already paying up to 40% of their income on child care, and yet child care workers are still only earning less than $25,000 a year on average. We need more public investments in the system to make high-quality early care and learning a reality for every Vermont child who needs it.