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Key Elements for Quality Improvement

States are involved in various activities to improve the availability and quality of early and school-age care and education programs. Most often these activities are supported by quality set-aside funds from the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF). States increasingly use CCDF funds to create quality improvement initiatives including the following key elements:

  • Program standards establish expectations for quality, often referred to as quality indicators, which identify different levels of and pathways to improved quality—specifically those that build upon and go beyond minimum health and safety requirements. Program standards serve as a tool to unite early childhood programs under a common vision of quality that applies to all settings and sectors.
  • Supports to programs to improve quality include activities such as technical assistance and consultation services for programs to assist them in meeting child care quality improvement standards. Professional development supports for practitioners are aligned with professional standards and are available to professionals working in all sectors of the formal early and school-age care and education system.
  • Financial incentives and supports include monetary supports offered to programs and practitioners for meeting and sustaining licensing requirements and participating in quality rating and improvement systems (QRISs) or other child care quality improvement activities. Financial incentives can be a powerful motivator for programs and practitioners to achieve and sustain higher levels of quality.
  • Quality assurance and monitoring processes allow Lead Agencies to measure child care program quality for the purposes of a QRIS or other quality improvement system. In addition, Lead Agencies must monitor and evaluate the methods used to ensure that the child care quality improvement standards for programs are met and quality improvement activities are maintained over time. Monitoring and evaluation provide a basis of accountability for programs, parents, and funders by creating benchmarks for measuring compliance with standards.
  • Consumer education and engagement strategies are used to promote child care quality improvement to parents, programs, and the general public. These systems provide simple ratings or descriptive information to allow families to assess program strengths and make informed choices that meet their needs and the needs of their children. The state should have in place easy-to-understand tools aimed at encouraging consumers (families), policymakers, and public and private partners to use quality standards to guide decisionmaking and to promote awareness, understanding, and use of information about child care quality for families, programs, practitioners, and the general public.