Changes to childcare rating system in works

West Virginia is looking to upgrade its system for evaluating childcare programs.

The state Department of Health and Human Resources hopes to increase public awareness about childcare centers and revise evaluation standards – changes that will require funding and new legislation.

At the top of the wish list: A state-sponsored website where parents could see childcare program ratings. It would work much like a five-star rating system for hotels, restaurants and movies.

“With the consumer awareness piece, families could make more informed decisions about where they place their children,” said Jessica Dianellos, a DHHR early childhood education specialist, during a legislative interim meeting Monday. “It informs them about the care they’re choosing.”

West Virginia is one of only seven states that hasn’t fully implemented a quality rating and improvement system for day care centers and other early childhood education programs.

“We’ve got the opportunity to learn lessons from these other states that have been doing it for a decade, and who are already revising their systems,” Dianellos said.

In 2009, state lawmakers passed a bill to establish a childcare center rating and improvement system, but they never allocated funding specifically for the program.

“The purpose is to improve quality that children and families have access to,” Dianellos said at the joint House-Senate education committee meeting. “We know that low-quality care is detrimental to children. By providing supports and incentives, it improves quality.”

In 2011, A Marshall University study concluded it would cost up to $82 million for a top-notch childcare rating system in West Virginia.

“We have implemented everything we can with the current funding, but we have not got the full system in place,” Dianellos said

West Virginia now operates a three-tiered reimbursement system for licensed childcare centers. Higher-tiered programs receive higher reimbursement rates from the state.

New centers get placed on the first tier. Programs move up to a second tier, if they submit documents showing they meet higher quality standards. Tier-three programs include day care centers that receive national accreditation.

Less than 7 percent of West Virginia’s 361 licensed childcare centers are nationally accredited, and 53 percent of day care providers have no more than a high school education and no specialized training, according to West Virginia Kids Count, a child advocacy group.

DHHR officials are urging legislators to revise state law so the office can improve the rating system. Program standards are now dictated by legislative rules.

“We’ve actually created a set of revised standards, but we can’t implement them because it would take legislative action,” Dianellos said. “The language is intended to create more of a tool for early childhood system reform.”

Marshall University’s Center for Business and Economic Research is taking a second look at the cost of setting up a statewide rating system for childcare programs, Dianellos said. A report is expected later this year.

DHHR officials also have been meeting with administrators from Head Start and pre-K programs.

“We’re trying to see what we can do for less, how we can use the resources we already have and make it work,” Dianellos said.

Reach Eric Eyre at, 304-348-4869 or follow @ericeyre on Twitter.

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Changes to childcare rating system in works
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