Innovation in monitoring in early care and education: Options for states


Executive Summary

Ensuring children are in safe environments that promote health and development is a top priority of families, state regulators, the federal government, and national organizations that accredit early care and education programs (ECE). This paper examines monitoring across ECE settings and considers lessons learned from the analogous sectors of child welfare and health. Although professional organizations in partnership with federal agencies developed national guidelines for health and safety, there is wide variation in state and local regulations around the minimum health and safety requirements for children in care. Areas of regulatory variation include: 1) thresholds for the number of children in licensed care at ECE facilities located in family child care homes (FCCs); 2) the comprehensiveness of background checks for ECE provider staff and individuals residing at FCCs; and 3) the frequency of monitoring visits.

ECE providers may receive funding from one or more public sources including, the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF), Head Start/Early Head Start (HS/EHS), State Pre-Kindergarten (State Pre-K), Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), Early Intervention and Special Education, and the Department of Defense Child Care. Providers funded by more than one public source are subject to multiple accountability systems that are not always aligned. ECE providers seeking national accreditation engage in yet another layer of accountability and quality improvement. Some states that are building or reforming Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) are attempting to create unified early learning standards and consistent ECE program ratings across funding streams and provider types.

Many states use differential monitoring to improve the efficiency of monitoring systems and technical assistance (TA) systems. As opposed to “one size fits all” systems of monitoring, differential monitoring determines the frequency and comprehensiveness of provider monitoring based on the provider’s history of compliance with standards and regulations. Providers that maintain strong records of compliance are inspected less frequently, while those with a history of non-compliance may be subject to more announced and unannounced inspections. This paper includes case studies from states involved in various stages of implementing differential monitoring approaches.

Implementation of the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014 (CCDBG), which was signed into law in November 2014, will likely result in more uniformity in state practice in some of the components of monitoring. Using examples from states reforming their child care licensing systems, this paper outlines the challenges and possibilities of building accountability systems that support positive child and family outcomes while reducing the burden on individual providers within multiple funding streams. This paper provides a general overview of the current monitoring system, and highlights several examples of promising state practices that are already underway. It offers a vision for accountability that addresses compliance with a minimum floor of health and safety standards, and promising strategies for continuous quality improvement. The goal of this paper is to inform upcoming changes in licensing and monitoring systems that will take place in the context of the reauthorized CCDBG implementation.

Source: Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of health and Human Services.

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