Blog

Written by Jennifer Gioia, CCSA Communications Manager

Both Kellie Brower, director of The Goddard School of Chapel Hill for two years, and Valerie Morris, owner and director of Beginning Visions Child Development Center & School in Alamance County for 20 years, had to recently recertify their centers. Both turned to the Infant-Toddler Quality Enhancement Project (ITQEP) for help.

Kellie “didn’t feel comfortable enough to lead the faculty” of her center into recertification on her own and reached out to Amanda Hazen, one of the infant-toddler specialists at ITQEP. When Valerie’s center needed recertification, ITQEP reached out to her, and she found it to be very helpful. Whether it’s two years or 20 years, ITQEP is there to assist even the most seasoned directors and staff achieve quality infant-toddler care.

What is the Infant-Toddler Quality Enhancement Project?

In 2004, the NC Division of Child Development and Early Education, in collaboration with the NC Resources and Referral Council, established the statewide Infant-Toddler Quality Enhancement Project (ITQEP). Operated by Child Care Services Association (CCSA), the NC ITQEP supports the development of higher quality infant and toddler classrooms in all of North Carolina’s 100 counties by providing specially trained infant-toddler specialists across the state for coaching, mentoring and consultation to teachers and directors of early care and education centers.

How Does the Infant-Toddler Quality Enhancement Project Help Child Care Directors?

“[ITQEP] helped us get ready for stars,” Kellie said. “With the new rules that have come out, [ITQEP] explained them and provided suggestions to get us over the hump…Honestly, they are my first point of contact whenever I have any questions. They have been seriously amazing. Always get back to me quickly, it never takes them long at all. They always seem to be available and happy to help, so it’s been really great.”

The NC Division of Child Development and Early Education issues star rated licenses to all eligible child care centers and family child care homes based on indicators of a program’s quality of care and education.[1] Child care programs can receive one to five stars. The star-rated license acts as a “roadmap” for providers to follow as they strive to improve the quality of their care.[2]

“Honestly, I would say them helping us with the stars rating [has been my favorite], because it is such a taxing procedure, and I can’t do it all by myself,” Kellie said. “Having that extra support means the world to me. It’s worth it to have them come in and be an outsider to look in, you know, to see what they see, because sometimes I’ll go into a classroom 15 times and I won’t see the things that they see, because that is something that I’m looking at every day.”

“I want to make sure we’re doing the right thing and we’re staying up to date,” Valerie said. “The rules and regulations, especially with the [ITERS] scales, change so much and so often that sometimes I have to get outside help to come in and remind me of things to keep me on top of the game.”

In order for programs to achieve a higher star rating, they must be accessed with the environment rating scale, which measures both quality and education. The Infant-Toddler Environment Rating Scale (ITERS) assesses child care programs for children birth to 2 ½ years of age.

“Definitely by far, [ITQEP] has been my favorite service,” Valerie said. “Amanda has been very thorough and very consistent. She finished the whole thing. Sometimes I have people come and it seems like we lose contact, but Amanda went out of her way and followed up to the end, and still after that, she contacts me regularly to ask me if I need anything, or if I have any questions, or to share an update she learned…She’s very enlightening.”

How do Teachers Apply the Infant-Toddler Quality Enhancement Project in the Classroom?

Knowing the reasons why, and not only how, are just as important for teachers when applying new lessons and suggestions from infant-toddler specialists in the classroom. “We had a question about an infant diaper changing procedure,” said Kellie. ITQEP specialists visited and “[made] it easier for me to give our teachers why we’re doing it and how we’re doing it. It’s just easier to apply in the classroom if I also have reasons why.”

“[ITQEP has] been really informative,” Kellie said. “Every time they come in, they are giving us something, whether it is tips and tricks, suggestions, encouragements, which is great, but it’s also nice because even if they’re just giving information to me, I can easily train the staff… then they always follow-up to make sure that we’ve been able to implement their suggestions, and if we weren’t, they come up with new suggestions.”

“[ITQEP Specialist Amanda] created an art carrier for the young ones, the ones that are one turning into the age when they have art,” Valerie said. “She made a little carrier so it would be easier to pull it out and put it back up. Sometimes with the older toddlers, we would leave the art out, but it would kind of make a mess, so she said you don’t have to leave it out all the time, put it in this carrier and it’s easy. You can pull it out when you’re ready to use it, as long as you make it accessible to them for an hour or so a day.”

“[ITQEP Specialists also] helped us redo the schedule to make the teachers’ schedule run smoother, so they wouldn’t have to do so much hand washing,” Valerie said. “Let’s go outside, come straight in and wash hands, and then sit at the table, rather than coming in, washing hands, playing for a little bit and then washing hands again and sitting down. It saves us some time.”

Kellie has also noticed a change in her how her teachers relate to the children.

“I’ve just noticed so much more focus on tummy time and [our teachers] understand why it’s important to physical development,” Kellie said. “Language was something that some of our teachers were struggling with because they had also come from ECERS classes and they just didn’t know how to relate to the younger children. So, I’ve also noticed a huge difference in the language between the teachers and the children, which has been great.”

“[ITQEP specialists] genuinely have the best interest of the infants and toddlers at heart,” Kellie said. “There’s never a question of what is important to them. But you can see in their attitude and their professionalism that infant-toddlers are always their focus, and they want them to grow up and be socially, emotionally, physically and academically developed well…[The ITQEP has] been amazing and invaluable, honestly, to me as the director and also to our staff.”

To continue supporting the operations of Child Care Services Association and crucial programs such as the Infant-Toddler Quality Enhancement Project, please donate today.


Sources:

[1] The North Carolina Division of Child Development and Early Education. https://ncchildcare.ncdhhs.gov/Services/Licensing/Star-Rated-License/star-rated-license

[2] Smart Start of Forsyth County. https://smartstart-fc.org/star-rating-system-your-child/

Written by Colleen Burns, Summer 2019 Communications Intern from UNC Chapel Hill

Rachel Feuer and her children

Rachel Feuer is a mother of two with her younger son, Sam, in child care in Chapel Hill. As any mother of a four-year-old would, Rachel expects her son to talk about the toys he played with or the new friends he made that day at his child care center. But one of his comments stands out among the rest.

Sam raves about the food served at his child care center. “My son has asked me many times to make Robert’s soup or Robert’s salad dressing or Robert’s chicken or Robert’s greens,” Rachel says. “He has asked me many times why we can’t just have Robert’s food at home, and was disappointed to find out that we can’t just order it. Recently, he has started asking for Robert’s recipes daily, and wondering why Robert doesn’t have a cookbook.”

Robert isn’t a cook at Sam’s child care center, though. Robert Cates has been a manager of the Meal Services program at Child Care Services Association (CCSA) for 20 years. He manages the kitchen in Orange County at the University United Methodist Church in downtown Chapel Hill and generates menus for all three of CCSA’s Meal Services kitchens. He also works closely with CCSA’s Meal Services program senior manager, Lisa Menna, who manages all three kitchens, to ensure meals meet the nutritional needs of the children by collaborating with dietitians and nutritionists as well as sourcing meat, produce and other products from local farmers.

What is the CCSA Meal Services?

In operation for almost 30 years, CCSA’s Meal Services program began out of the kitchen at the University United Methodist Church in Orange County. It expanded with the construction of the Jim and Carolyn Hunt Child Care Resource Center in Durham County, and in 2017-18’s fiscal year, the program served 1,300 children daily in 24 centers.

The Meal Services program provides two nutritious meals plus one nutritious snack per day to children enrolled in participating child care centers in Durham, Orange and Wake County. These scratch-made meals meet or exceed all USDA requirements for child care and are compliant with the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). CCSA serves as a food sponsor for CACFP,  a federal program that sets standards for nutritious meals for children ages birth-12 years, and subsidizes the cost of food for child care programs, targeting children whose families qualify for free and reduced lunch.

Rachel says, “CCSA makes it possible for smaller child care settings to provide excellent food for kids and teachers. At the small [child care center] my son attends, there is no space or budget to hire someone to cook meals.” This is the case for many child care centers.

By purchasing food in bulk, the Meal Services program allows child care centers to purchase nutritional meals and snacks at cost, without having to maintain expensive kitchens. It also allows directors to focus more of their attention on quality child care instead of on shopping, menu planning and cooking.

“It’s also an educational process,” says Robert. Trying new foods can be an adjustment for some children, “but the child care centers we’ve been serving for a long time…know how to ease kids into it and help them to appreciate the variety and appreciate things that they’ve never seen before,” Robert explained.

In order to be eligible for Meal Services, child care centers must have at least 3 stars or earn at least a 3-star rating within one year of implementing Meal Services, and participating centers are also required to enroll in the USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program. Meals also must be served family style at the table as meals are not individually packaged, so that children can eat together in a positive setting.

Why is the CCSA Meal Services Needed?

Many families in North Carolina face the dual challenge of food insecurity and early childhood obesity. Child care centers play a central role in the development of early eating habits. On average, children receive more than 50 percent of their daily caloric intake at child care. Therefore, the importance of these meals cannot be understated. Nutrition and quality must be prioritized.

Rachel is a psychologist who has worked with many clients who have struggled with healthy eating. “Early childhood is the time when children are developing lifelong eating habits. If they become accustomed to eating lots of preparations of healthy vegetables, proteins, legumes and whole grains, they will be at an advantage for their entire life,” says Rachel.

Meal Services focuses on creating meals that are made using local products and in-season fruits and vegetables.

Robert says, “We buy from Farmer Foodshare, which is a local food hub in Durham, and they source from all over North Carolina. They get apples from the mountains and produce from down east. And then we also source…from farmers in Orange, Durham and Chatham counties.”

The program ensures children have balanced menus that include one poultry, one beef, one seafood and two vegetarian lunches per week.

“We have so many items on our [menu] list…There is quite a bit of variety and it always depends on…what’s available seasonally…We follow the meal patterns of the child care center food programs, and we also meet with nutritionists to make sure we are going above and beyond in terms of the nutritional needs for the children,” Robert shared.

Monthly newsletters let families learn more about what their child is eating and learning about in the child care setting. They even include tips and recipes so that parents like Rachel can try to incorporate these healthy foods at home. Rachel says, “CCSA strikes a healthy balance of wholesome food that (according to my kids) tastes excellent.”

Robert shared, “We’re looking to hopefully expand what we’re doing into Chatham County. There are groups working around the state to replicate our model in rural areas around North Carolina. So, it’s a slow process, but people think what we’re doing is worth trying to duplicate in other areas.”

To continue supporting the operations of Child Care Services Association and crucial programs such as Meal Services, please consider donating today.

Written by Edith Locke, CCSA Professional Development Team

The month of May signals the season for commencement exercises at colleges and universities nationwide. As students walk proudly across the stage in cap and gown, triumphantly moving the tassel on their mortarboard to symbolize academic achievement, it is important to recognize degree attainment roadblocks that the early care and education (ECE) field face.

Why are early educators more deserving of special acknowledgment for degree completion than other non-traditional, working students?

First, one should consider the shared traits of this workforce with college non-completers. The ECE workforce, much like the college non-completer, typically has dependent children, low income, works full-time, attends college part-time and is financially independent from parents.

Despite how closely they mirror college non-completers, degree attainment is not impossible. The 2015 Working in Early Care and Education in North Carolina Study reported 63 percent of teachers had a college degree. Additionally, 17 percent of teachers were taking courses in the ECE field with 60 percent of them working towards an associate or bachelor’s degree.

Unfortunately, degree attainment rarely means significant compensation gains. The median wage for ECE teachers was $10.46 compared to $17.61 starting wage of public school teachers in North Carolina.  Additionally, over 70 percent of the workforce’s household income was below the $46,784 North Carolina median household income. Moreover, 39 percent of teachers received some public assistance in the previous three years.

It is commendable the ECE workforce makes educational advancements despite challenges.

Workforce supports, such as the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® scholarship and Child Care WAGE$® salary supplement programs that help early educators access formal education and reward their retention, are crucial. Research shows degrees are linked to quality care, and maternal education has been linked to better child outcomes. Therefore, support for degree attainment in the ECE field should remain a priority.