A Right for All Children: Making Quality Care Accessible, Affordable, and UniversalAnita James | February 2014
The state of Georgia has nearly 400,000 children under the age of six spending as many as 10 hours a day in the care of someone other than their parents—and the numbers are increasing every year. Unfortunately, the quality of care for these children is not in any way consistent, and there has been little to help parents reliably compare available services.
Quality Care for Children (QCC), a GCN member since 1996, aims to change that by “providing resources to children, parents, and child care providers in securing high-quality, early learning experiences for infants and young children.” Those resources include the state’s first mobile app allowing families to search and compare more than 6,000 child care programs across the state. It’s the latest tool to emerge from 30 years dedicated to accountability in early care and education, improving the quality of those services, and developing new and innovative ways to fulfill the needs of parents and children. That dedication to mission, as well as powerful collaboration efforts, and adaptability in the face of changing community needs, have combined to make QCC a high performance organization and a true asset for Georgia families.
A Mission-First Approach
QCC CEO Pam Tatum has been with the organization for more than 20 years, and the growth she has seen in quality early care and education in Georgia makes her very optimistic. QCC’s own programs have also evolved over the years, reflecting the needs and requests of parents, child care providers, and children. QCC tracks those changing needs through frequent client surveys, which they comb for new opportunities to provide service and improvements. QCC’s surveys also allow parents and child care providers to share their perspectives and prevent gaps in care from being overlooked.
“We are wedded to our mission—not our programs. This allows us to grow and change as needed”
“We are wedded to our mission—not our programs,” said Tatum. “This allows us to grow and change as needed.” Listening to their clients, QCC recently decided to expand their food and nutrition services, becoming a sponsor of the USDA’s child care summer food program. “When we began hearing, from child care programs, that children were coming in hungry, we asked ourselves how these young brains and bodies could develop—how hungry children could learn. We began playing a much bigger role in addressing food insecurity. This has led to a major expansion of our services in this area.”
Though many families now have the tools to find quality care, that quality comes at a price: “We do a lot of work making sure these programs provide what kids need, but the stumbling block is [that] quality is expensive,” said Tatum. To keep costs for families under control, QCC is developing a scholarship program: “Its not enough to tell parents, this is the kind of care you want and where to find it, if they can’t afford it. So we have an obligation to address this issue.”
Results Backed by Research
To provide for the best interest of children, QCC stays informed with the latest research and commentary on child development, particularly neurological development. Despite increasing evidence that that some 80 percent of brain development occurs during the early years of a child’s life, investment in early care and education nationally, and in the state of Georgia, remains insufficient. “The research has validated something that we have known all along,” said Tatum. “Children benefit overwhelmingly from a quality early learning experience.”
Research into the dollars-and-cents of the matter provide a complementary perspective: “For every dollar invested in early care education, we save $7 or more in remedial education, prison beds, social welfare costs,” said Tatum. In addition, children who have been prepared with a quality early learning education have higher graduation rates and will earn more once they enter the workforce. “The research doesn’t so much change practices as it gives us another way to talk about why what we do is so important.”
Signs of State Progress
So how do they get the community involved and investing more in early childhood development? QCC also takes a serious policy stand. Collaborating with GCN member Voices for Georgia’s Children, QCC reaches more than 30,000 parents with advocacy alerts and a wealth of policy information. Tatum has met with state and federal legislators to tell the stories of Georgia’s children, parents, and child care providers, and how the state has fallen short of its obligation to them: “Historically, quality [early childhood care] in Georgia has not been good at all. We have addressed [these issues] for our four-year-olds through the Georgia Pre-K program, and have been a leader in that area, but birth to three has been very bad. But again, it is getting better.”
“There are great things happening in GA right now”
Tatum explained that Georgia has made some major leaps in recent years, particularly with its new quality rating system. Georgia’s Quality Rated is a system of assessing, improving, and communicating the level of quality in early care and education programs throughout the state. Recently, Georgia was awarded a federal Race to the Top grant of $51 million, which will expand access to high-quality child care for low-income families, increase training for early childhood teachers, and put extra resources into areas of the state where test scores and other indicators show the greatest need.
Tatum is excited that Georgia is on the path towards bettering serving our children, but knows that there’s much work still to be done to make sure all children are served: “Children deserve a quality early learning experience. It should be a right for all children."
For more information on Quality Care for Children’s work and impact, check out their website www.qualitycareforchildren.org.
Anita James is a Communications Coordinator at the Georgia Center for Nonprofits.