As family child care providers, we are all small business owners who provide education and care for young children. In creating and operating our unique small businesses, we each strive to provide the best program we can. A part of that effort is continuously reflecting and assessing our own program and practices. Over time that reflection and assessment process becomes a ritual and a continuous learning process.
Continuous Quality Improvement is just that, continually doing our best to grow in our knowledge, so we can offer the best program for the children in our care.
In Maine, providers are lucky to have a variety of agencies and organizations that are present to support our CQI efforts. Some of these are Let’s Go 5-2-1-0, ECCP, MRTQ PDN (technical assistance, training, community of practices, cohorts) and FCCAM (resources, informational posts, training).
There is also DHHS Licensing, their job is to be sure a program’s environment is safe and policies are in place to be sure minimum appropriate practices around health and safety are being upheld or followed. They do not tell programs what best practice is, they are focused on the foundational health and safety pieces.
Maine also has a 4 Step Quality Rating Improvement System – Quality for ME. Referred to often as just QRIS. Quality for ME was a voluntary program from its inception, until the current Licensing Rules (Family Child Care and Facilities) took effect in 2021. Now all licensed programs in Maine are required to complete the Quality for ME application.
For many providers this has become an area of confusion, concern, stress or frustration.
First, MRTQ PDN Registry and Quality for ME (QRIS) are different. Quality for ME is about the program, while MRTQ registry is about the individual, the provider.
Then you add in the confusion about “Rising Stars”. What are the changes from Quality for ME? When is it going to be required? What happens to a program’s current Quality for ME Step level? Why Stars?
In addition to the Rising Stars Pilot report we know that Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Office of Child and Family Services, (OCFS) held a public hearing via zoom on 10/5/22 to gather feedback and comments from the field on the proposed QRIS change to Rising Stars. Department responses have not yet been released regarding the comments made on 10/5. Their responses to the comments should be the next step in the proposed change whether it moves forward or not. In addition, there is an even broader national discussion about why the “R”? Why not just “QIS”- Quality Improvement System. Continual support for program quality……
Concerns heard from providers and the national discussion added to the discussion of FCCAM’s Professional Learning Committee (PLC) while they built the “Everything Notebook”. In addition, there was also discussion at MRTQ PDN with the outcome of 2 statewide communities of practices that will support practitioners in learning more about the QRIS system in Maine and offer support(s) that will aid programs in their improvement efforts.
- Continuous Quality Improvement for Family Child Care – Meets on 3rd Thursday of the month via Zoom from 6:00-7:30 pm. Register Here
- Continuous Quality Improvement for Centers Based & Out-of-School Time Directors – Meets on the 4th Tuesday of the month via Zoom from 1:30-3:00 pm. Register Here
MRTQ PDN and FCCAM PLC are co-facilitating the Community of Practice just for family child care providers. Together we are examining what Maine’s current QRIS expects of providers, sharing experiences, styles of documentation, and resources. This work will not only help us meet the current system requirements but it will help us prepare should Rising Stars be released. The community of practice is titled: Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) because that is the underlying goal, to build understanding and confidence in approaching self-assessment and reflection of your practices and the continual learning that addresses program quality and individual professionalism.
Following the spreadsheet and table ideas the Professional Learning Committee used to build the “Everything Notebook” and looking at the checklists around Licensing Rule requirements on the FCCAM website, work was done to build such tools for the current Quality for ME Steps and what the pilot report informed us about the direction for Rising Stars.
The tables comparing Steps to Stars were shared by FCCAM PLC on the first CQI CoP. These tables list all requirements for each Step. They are broken out by Standards. If there is a corresponding Standard and requirements suggested in the Pilot Report for Stars that is included. Any new Standards for Stars recommended in the report are also included. Anything highlighted in Blue is currently a requirement in the Licensing Rule.
*Again what is shared about Rising Stars is our best guess from what information has been shared following the pilot. If changes are made to the Rising Stars information or requirements, if and when it is released, the CQI CoP will shift their information and resources to meet any new requirements.
So providers can see what they have already in place and what more is expected for each Step Level we divided QRIS up into its Standards. We looked at a Standard and listed requirements for each Step. If providers and thus their programs are in compliance with the current Licensing Rule then they are eligible to be placed on Step 1, but may find they have many requirements for other Step Levels also done.
To move up Steps: you need to assess and compare what you are currently doing within your program and practice to what the systems require, identify the gaps and address them. The CQI CoP is committed to helping providers look at requirements and figure out what they need to adjust and fill the gaps to meet requirements. Again we want to be clear with providers that Quality for ME is still a voluntary program in regards to moving up Steps. Programs are just required to complete the application, and stay enrolled by reapplying every three years, nothing more.
There are currently MRTQ PDN Quality Improvement Award incentives around moving up steps, subsidy reimbursement increases and even tax incentives for families to claim at different Step Levels.
In addition to CQI CoP, MRTQ PDN also offers free technical assistance/ consultation to programs looking to move up the steps of QRIS. You can learn more about that opportunity through MRTQ PDN Consultation.
Also be aware that for any provider who wants to reach Step 4 you will need to be NAFCC Accredited. MRTQ PDN is there to help you with that process. They offer a variety of support for that.
MRTQ PDN will soon be offering an informational meeting on 3/9/23 from 6-7:30pm via zoom on NAFCC Accreditation and the support(s) offered through MRTQ PDN. If interested in learning more about NAFCC Accreditation you can register HERE
Parents and potential clients can see a program’s Step rating on childcarechoices.me. Not having a clear understanding that QRIS is a voluntary program they may not understand what the rating represents. An individual provider is free to share their MRTQ PDN Professional Development Profile to show and highlight all their training and professional development they have done. This sharing can help inform both current and future clients of the work you put in professionally to provide a quality program.
What is a QRIS?
The National Center on Early Childhood Quality Assurance (NCECQA), funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, defines “The Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) is a systemic approach to assess, improve, and communicate the level of quality in early and school-age care and education programs.
- Increase quality of early care programs
- Increase parents’ understanding of higher quality early care and education
- Increase professional development opportunities
- Create a cross-sector framework
Through the current self-assessment, Quality for ME can help programs identify their needs for additional resources and supports to increase their level of quality.
In Maine, DHHS administers both Child Care Licensing and Quality for ME, but each is managed within a different division. Licenses are issued and monitored by the Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services, Child Care Licensing Unit. Quality for ME is administered by the Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS), Early Intervention and Prevention Division. The divisions share information regarding a program’s current licensing status and compliance history, but Child Care Licensing staff do not make decisions about the Step at which a program is rated. OCFS makes the final determination on a program’s Step rating and issues the appropriate certificate based on the provider’s answers to the questions on the application.
Step ratings are valid for a three-year period, unless a program no longer meets the standards for their assigned Step. A program can and should reapply anytime there is relevant information that needs updating.
A provider/owner/director applies for Quality for ME at https://qualityforme.org, by entering the program’s license number. The application system will access administrative data about the program, including:
- Licensing status and if relevant, any current violation information.
- Staff members on the MRTQ Registry, including Level(s) on the Career Lattice and whether or not staff have completed specific training
- Program accreditation status
Completing the application means you are answering questions/self-assessing your program. Be sure to click through to the final screen and click “Submit” to ensure that your application is submitted. Remember, a program can and should reapply anytime there is relevant information that needs updating.
Upon completion of the online application, the program will be given a Step rating, along with information about what standards need to be met in order to reach the next Step. A staff member at OCFS will review the application and the program will be formally notified by mail with a certificate indicating the Step rating with Quality for ME.
While the application is a self-assessment, programs need to have supporting documentation for their answers that standards at each level have been met. The documentation can be gathered into a digital portfolio on your computer or a physical notebook kept on your premises. If you are chosen for an on-site portfolio review it has to be available.
An on-site portfolio review? …….
The purpose of this announced and mutually agreed upon visit by OCFS is to review supporting documentation to validate the program’s self assessment in the online application process. Programs are selected from a random list of programs with Step 2, 3, or 4 ratings based on geographic regions. Remember if you are in compliance with the current Licensing Rule you meet Step 1 requirements, that documentation is already reviewed by Licensing Specialists.