Guest blogger Linda Dunphy writes…

As promised in last week’s blog post, I am delighted to share an EHS-Child Care Center Partnership model. This past week, Gay DeLaughter, Head Start/Early Head Start Director andJ ennifer Cronk, Quality Assurance Coordinator, from Community Coordinated Care for Children, Inc. (4C) generously shared some of the interesting elements of their EHS-child care center partnerships with me.

First some background on 4C:

  • 4C has served central Florida families for over four decades “providing solutions to the challenges of affordability, accessibility, and quality of child care in our community.”
  • 4C works in partnership with the Early Learning Coalitions of Orange and Osceola counties to provide child care referrals to local early learning providers, access to school readiness and Voluntary Pre-K child care, financial assistance, early intervention services, child care trainings, and the Child Care Food Program.
  • 4C operates Head Start and Early Head Start programs serving 774 of children.

Given this full spectrum of early childhood offerings, 4C is well positioned to host partnerships between HS/EHS and child care centers and family child care. Here are the details on their EHS–child care partnerships:

  • Their first round of EHS Partnerships occurred in 2010 and second round in 2012;
  • They started with 11 center partnerships and whittled down to six to achieve higher quality in their second round. Currently, they serve 80 infants and toddlers in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties.
  • All six centers provide dedicated EHS classrooms among other non-EHS classrooms. Their only fully dedicated EHS partners are with their five Family Child Care homes.
  • 4C defines its relationships with the partner centers as “contractual partnerships” rather than calling the classroom teachers “employees”. The classrooms are supported by EHS specialist staff provided by 4C. Partnership centers are paid a flat daily rate based on number of children.

How did 4C select their partners?

  • 4C issued a competitive RFP. It generated over 100 applicants in round one; and far fewer in round two. In the first round, the larger number was due to a prevailing minimal understanding of the EHS expectations for quality and the myriad of family/child program components.
  • The review and scoring of 100 applicants took weeks and included site visits for the highest scored applicants.
  • In round two, 4C refined their RFP criteria to attract sites committed to higher quality and better information about EHS program expectations. Far fewer applied as a result.
  • Since Florida is one of the states with a decentralized and optional Quality Rating System, 4C opted to use the ECERS and ITERS as the primary quality rating criteria. This became a factor in reducing partnership sites from 11 to 6.

Was there adequate time for start-up planning for the new partnerships?

  • It took about 6 months to get first round of center partnerships off the ground and 4C would have preferred to have had at least 9-12 months. This confirms the emphasis in the EHS-Child Care Partnership federal webinars on planning and the 18 month start-up period.

How does the 4C handle professional development, training and substitutes?

  • 4C opens all training for partnerships staff.
  • 4C requires all partnership teaching staff to have at a minimum a CDA upon hire; and, if a teacher has no infant and toddler coursework, 4C provides the resources so that teacher can obtain the appropriate courses.
  • A “floating substitute” who meets EHS credentials is recommended for each partnership center to ensure qualified coverage for sick and holiday leave.

What are the most challenging Head Start Program Performance Standards?

  • Micro standards: The specific and high standards around nutrition, health and safety. Tooth brushing is a good example. It is not so surprising that this requirement is challenging in a center with both EHS and non-EHS classrooms.
  • Macro standards: Governance is a particular challenge. Gay shared that family engagement practices do not fully cultivate and sustain parent’s participation. Unfortunately, there is no steady EHS Family Advocate at each partner site. Therefore, teachers who are “contractual, not employees of 4C” are depended upon to embrace and fully promote the EHS family engagement culture. It can be “disheartening,” shared Gay, because the fragmentation of staffing and services can interfere with the full integration of the EHS program.
  • Gay and Jennifer shared the utmost importance of the quality of the inter-agency “relationships” at the macro and micro levels between the EHS grantee and partnering centers. This takes quality time to cultivate and sustain. It should not be taken for granted or expected to flourish on its own.
  • Gay and Jennifer contrasted their center partner experiences with their four Family Child Care partnerships. Building these relationships and more easily embracing the family child care related performance standards brought fewer obstacles and, as result, are “far more successful.”

How is Quality Assurance Monitoring Conducted?

  • 4C EHS specialist staff visit center partners at different intervals with monitoring tools that use a multi-disciplined lens to capture insight and assurances of quality programming across domains.

How do the child care subsidies impact the partnerships?

I spoke to Gay and Jennifer on the same afternoon of the ACF State Partnerships, webinar. “We could fully identify with the disconnect on the subsidy policy front.” 4C needs child care subsidies to be more compatible with HS/EHS. For example:

  • If a family is eligible for HS/EHS, they cannot qualify simultaneously to receive state child care subsidy funds. This creates a dilemma for families who need full day care. 4C offers a six hour program and cannot blend the subsidies for extended hours. Many parents need a longer day. The EHS Center partners allow parents to pay extra for extended day. This may work for some families but not all.
  • It is not uncommon for EHS families who need full day care to leave the EHS program for a full day non-EHS centers once they have their child care subsidy in hand. In effect, 4C at times serves as a “holding pattern” while a family awaits subsidy approval.
  • A center’s interest in partnering with EHS may be negatively impacted if it means it cannot offer full day care using subsidies. Financially, a center in 4C’s counties can be licensed to allow 6 or 12 children in an infant and toddler classroom compared to 4 or 8 children in an EHS classroom. There is significant revenue loss when you combine a shorter day with fewer children.
  • So for 4C, policies need to change at the state and perhaps even local level on subsidies.

Overall they noted a persistent, yet not insurmountable, challenge for 4C and the center partners to fully collaborate in ways that promote optimal performance and administrative ease. The integration of EHS (with all its rigor and robustness in program design and standards) requires partnership centers to embrace cultural and organizational changes that don’t always come easily or with the necessary resources and time.

Yet, despite the challenges, 4C does reap successes in the partnerships (high quality experiences for infants and toddlers) and sees this as a growing program strategy to embrace. And, from the community child care perspective? Well, as one clear indicator, 4C fields inquiries every day from Family Child Care and centers about when the next RFP for partnerships will be released.

Thanks, Gay and Jennifer, for sharing your experiences and insights with the field and your peers! This will certainly be valuable for others considering partnerships.

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Whether your agency might apply to be an EHS-CC Partnership grantee or your child care program is a solid partnership candidate, there’s a lot to consider.  We can help analyze the opportunity, prepare a competitive grant proposal, or design and implement a high quality 18-month start-up plan.  If we can’t, we will connect you with the right resources to support your efforts.  Give us a call to discuss your situation: 703-599-4329 or augenblick@foundationsforfamilies.com

 

 

 

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