A banner hangs outside the door to Georgia Regents University Child Care Center stating what the staffers inside already know.
The facility is clean, its teachers are certified, the food is nutritious and the classrooms are age-appropriate.
With the banner declaring the center is participating in the state’s voluntary Quality Rated evaluation system, though, the hope is to show families that the center is going above and beyond the minimum educational and safety requirements.
Ashlynn Scruggs, the assistant director of the GRU Child Care Center, said participating in the evaluation system has given a sense of validation to the teachers and staffers who are sometimes misunderstood.
“A lot of times in this business, parents feel we are just the baby sitters, but really we’re educators as well and we’re teachers,” Scruggs said. “This brings awareness, and it makes you appreciate exactly what we’re doing here. It makes you feel good about coming to work every day.”
Officials are touting the state’s new Quality Rated system, which is being used by about 1,400 of Georgia’s 6,000 child care facilities. Centers can achieve up to a three-star rating and are judged on criteria such as learning environment, staff qualifications, physical activity and food nutrition.
There is no cost for facilities to participate in the system, but centers are eligible for thousands of dollars in cash benefits for enrolling, in addition to money for facility improvements paid for by private sponsors.
Child care centers in Georgia are required to undergo only basic annual inspections for state licensing. Mindy Binderman, the executive director of Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students, said Quality Rated brings another level of accountability and assurance for families to look for when selecting a child care facility.
“Figuring out what child care center to send your child to is probably the most difficult decision a parent makes, and this helps,” she said.
Though Quality Rated launched as a voluntary program, Ray Higgins, the deputy commissioner for finance and administration for Georgia’s Bright from the Start Department of Early Care and Learning, said he hopes that as word spreads and participation increases, Quality Rated will become almost a gold standard that facilities feel compelled to meet.
Quality Rated launched in 2012 and began publishing ratings for public inspection in July. Because of the roughly nine-month review process, only about 250 of the 1,400 participating facilities have received ratings so far.
GRU Child Care Center received the highest possible three-star rating this year. Officials toured the center Monday to examine what makes a facility top notch.
Scruggs said although the center received a positive evaluation, it still had to adhere to some changes. Staffers and children must wash their hands more frequently than before, and some policies, such as supervision rules for when children use the restroom, were revised.
The 90-child center improved nutrition standards by eliminating all processed foods, switching from white breads to whole grains, and trading chocolate chip cookies for hummus and yogurt.
Bill Crowder, the senior vice president for the Family Y of Greater Augusta, toured GRU’s center with Quality Rated staffers Monday to get a better grasp on the system. He said he plans for his child care center at the Family Y to participate so he can give parents a stronger confirmation of their quality of care.
“We know we do well, but if you walk in the same center every day sometimes you look over some things,” Crowder said. “Someone coming in looking at it, it gives a different lens. Anything to make us better, we want to do.”