The County of Los Angeles will soon be launching the Steps to Excellence Program (STEP), an innovative new child care rating system to help parents make informed child care choices for their children, Supervisor Don Knabe announced at a press conference recently.
When it starts in July, STEP will be 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.
STEP will begin by assessing more than 200 child care centers and more than 400 family child care homes in nine communities across the County, including Inglewood, Long Beach, Palmdale, Pasadena, Pomona, Santa Monica, Wilmington, Florence/Firestone, and Pacoima/Arleta. The program is supported with funds from the County of Los Angeles, the California Department of Education and the First 5 LA Commission.
This is a great opportunity to give parents access to clear, concise information about child care centers that they may not have time or the ability to research on their own, said Supervisor Knabe, who carried the concept of the program through to the Board of Supervisors. The STEP program will assess six key areas that all parents would want to know about a child care setting, including safety, program quality, teacher qualifications, and whether or not they can accommodate kids with special needs.
Child care is big business in Los Angeles County and across California. In Los Angeles County alone, it is estimated that more than $1.4 billion is spent on child care services annually and the demand for services and facilities continues to grow every year. But, with this increasing demand for services comes an increasing need for oversight and access to information for parents about the quality of care their children are receiving in these facilities, Knabe said.
Participation in STEP will be voluntary. Child care providers will first conduct a self-review of their services, and based on the results of that review, providers can either proceed directly to the rating process, or engage in training and support prior to submitting an application. On-site observations will be conducted by a trained field researcher in all STEP programs. Data from the classroom observations as well as administrative records will be considered in determining the STEP rating. A program at Step 1 will be meeting basic licensing standards, whereas a program at Step 5 will have better trained teachers, higher-teacher-to-child ratios, enriched learning environments, and stronger ties to community resources.
Child care licensing standards in the State of California are based solely on health and safety concerns, and do not address program quality, said Supervisor Knabe. The goal of this program is to rate the quality of care being offered, establish a mechanism to distinguish programs that are meeting higher standards, and provide parents a benchmark to go by when selecting a facility for their children.