Despite serious cuts to child development programs, Los Angeles County’s child care rating system continues to grow, thanks to a significant new grant from Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP) that will allow for dozens of additional child care centers to be inspected and graded.
The rating system, called the Steps to Excellence Program (STEP), was launched by Supervisor Knabe in July 2007 as the first program of its kind in California. In much the same way as the County’s successful restaurant grading system has empowered consumers with information, the goal of rating child care centers is to educate parents and improve the quality and services of the centers.
The program started as a pilot in nine communities across the County, including Long Beach. Currently, over 400 child development centers and family child care homes participate in the Steps to Excellence Project (STEP). The information collected during the review process will be analyzed and used to assign quality ratings to STEP participants. It is supported with funds from the County of Los Angeles, the California Department of Education, the First 5 LA Commission and now LAUP.
The $7.6 million grant from LAUP will enable the STEP program to sustain its current operation and allow for expansion of the program into 15 new communities over the next five years.
“What is unique about the STEP program is that we are evaluating the overall quality of these child care programs,” said Supervisor Knabe. “We aren’t just assessing whether or not the carpet is clean and the walls are painted, we are looking at the ‘learning environment’ as well. To me, that is the most important consideration for any parent in deciding where to place their children and that is why this program is so important.”
In Los Angeles County, it is estimated that more than $1.9 billion is spent on child care services annually and the demand for services and facilities continues to grow every year. With this escalating demand for services comes an increasing need for oversight and access to information for parents about the quality of care their children are receiving. The STEP program assesses six key areas including safety, program quality, teacher qualifications, and whether or not the center can accommodate children with special needs.
For more information about STEP, contact the County Office of Child Care at (213) 893-0505 or visit www.childcare.lacounty.gov.