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Creating Sustainable Quality Child Care

To strengthen the sustainability of quality child care programs that serve our most vulnerable children, those birth to three.

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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

We have a greater understanding and knowledge of existing community resources that we can leverage on behalf of child care programs, especially those provided by state systems and programs supporting small businesses.

Name or Organization

Quality Care for Children partnering with Child Care Cooperative

Geography

We serve the state of Georgia. This pilot would focus on child care programs in Metro Atlanta

What is your stage of development?

  • Advanced Innovator with 3 to 10+ years of experience in ECD

Type

  • Non-profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Prototyping: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing my idea.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Early childhood programs are often managed by Directors who lack business skills to operate sound businesses. QCC has provided assistance to help them meet high quality standards, only to see quality decline, or worse, doors close, as a result of poor business practices. This challenge is most prevalent in small privately owned child care businesses that operate with limited resources in low income communities and serve some of our most vulnerable children. High quality child care programs with strong business practices are sustainable and able to meet the needs of families and children.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

QCC will improve child care business practices and sustainability by enhancing GA Alliance for Quality Child Care training and support. The Alliance supports the business and educational aspects child care through cost savings, resources, training, and consultation. Through a partnership with Child Care Cooperative, we provide free financial management training and discounts on accounting and business services. Unfortunately many programs that could benefit do not have the computer systems and software needed. QCC will provide computers (or update existing computers), access to basic computer literacy classes, child management software, and/or Quickbooks. QCC is also working with the GA Dept of Early Care and Learning to identify and catalog free state-supported small business resources, e.g. Small Business Development Centers. The aim is to assist them in making their services appropriate for child care and to educate child care providers about how the services can help them. There are also New Market Tax Credits available to support child care program expansion. Providers need assistance understanding and accessing these tax credits. QCC would incorporate this information in the GA Alliance web platform and its consultation and training with programs. This effort will improve business practices, increase the financial management capacity of programs, and increase their access to small business loans and tax credits as well as other free small business services.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

There is a need for more affordable, quality child care in low income communities, especially for children birth to three. Existing programs tend to be independently owned, their owners do not have business training, and after achieving Quality Rated, have a difficult time maintaining quality because of poor business practices. Some programs need access to small business loans to improve or expand facilities, don’t know where to go, and need assistance with business plans and loan applications.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

A recent mapping program of child care in metro Atlanta has identified child care deserts, areas of the metro area where the supply of child care, especially high quality child care, does not meet the demand. During the economic downturn, QCC tracked the decline in the supply of child care, especially in low income communities. In many of these communities, the supply has not recovered. When the supply is inadequate, many parents leave their children in settings that may not be the best for them, in order to work. Not only is the supply of child care inadequate to meet the current demand in some communities but additional programs are at risk of closing. The cost of doing business, and of meeting new higher child care quality standards, is a strain for many child care programs that are challenged to keep fees low and affordable for parents. The Georgia Pre-K program for four year olds has been a great resource for children and families and a source of revenue for child care programs lucky enough to qualify for a GA Pre-K classroom(s). Programs without GA Pre-K can find themselves caring for a disproportionate number of infants and toddlers, the most expensive age groups for which to provide care. This challenges their fee structures, financial models, resources, and ultimately quality for the infants and toddlers who need it most. The introduction of GA’s Quality Rated program, an overall positive development for child care in GA, can further strain under resourced programs. There are increased costs associated with providing high quality child care, and programs in low income areas can't pass the costs on to parents in the form of higher fees. Quality Care for Children will focus on improving child care businesses to stabilize and increase supply and support quality programs in child care deserts and low income communities. QCC will recruit high quality programs in low income areas to participate in a pilot. All programs will receive free memberships to QCC’s shared services alliance and an orientation to the available resources. QCC staff will assess programs using McCormick’s Business Administration Scale (BAS). Programs not on computerized child management software will receive a new computer (if needed) and software. Programs without financial management software will receive QuickBooks (unless they choose a child management software with robust financial reporting). Programs will receive training in using the software and help to transfer data and set up their computer system. Child Care Cooperative will work with them to provide targeted training and individual consultation as needed in areas such as payroll and labor laws, taxes, cash flow management, financial statements, preparation of business plans and budgets. Programs may choose to continue to manage their financial operations and reporting, or may choose to contract with Child Care Cooperative for those services at a discounted rate. QCC will help programs develop marketing plans and strategies for addressing challenges related to fee collection. At the end of the pilot period, QCC staff will administer the BAS in order to measure the impact of the assistance. While working with the individual programs QCC will also be working with the state to identify and catalog small business services provided free in Georgia through the Technical College System of GA, GA Department of Economic Development, small business development centers, and GA Department of Community Affairs. QCC will work with these entities to help them understand child care business needs, how their programs and services might be of benefit to child care, and what modifications, if any, might be needed to be accessible and work most effectively with child care programs. QCC and Child Care Cooperative will help interested programs access these services, and in particular, work closely with programs seeking small business loans for facility improvements and program expansion. In this process, QCC will work with the state to identify gaps in services and develop strategies to address them. The information learned about these free business services and supports will be incorporated in QCC’s Alliance web portal for all members throughout Georgia. Staff experience with the BAS and BAS program results will inform QCC’s technical assistance with more than 600 programs annually. QCC has advocated for additional attention and incorporation of business metrics in the state’s Quality Rated system. While the value and impact of sound business practices and shared services strategies, like the GA Alliance for Quality Child Care, on the quality and sustainability of programs is acknowledged in GA's state child care plan, the state has not gone further to incorporate business metrics in GA's quality rating and improvement system (Quality Rated). Our data and experience gathered through this program will bolster our position and further that conversation.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

Child care programs in low income communities will benefit. They will be more financially sound and stable. Quality rated programs will be able to sustain their higher quality. Some may expand, hiring additional teachers and adding additional quality child care slots. Children and families will benefit. There are many elements of a high quality program impacted by poor business practices. Not only can they result in limited or reduced revenue to invest in quality programming, but they can also contribute to high teacher turnover. And good business practices can help child care programs use their resources wisely, keeping their fees as affordable as possible for parents, without sacrificing quality. The children who are most likely to lose out on high quality child care are the younger children, birth to three, who are not served by GA’s publicly funded Pre-K program. These children are typically in independently operated child care programs in their community, or where the costs are too high or the supply of care is inadequate, in unlicensed care. By ensuring that we have a stable supply of quality child care in low income communities, we can provide parents with the child care they need to work, and provide infants and toddlers with the high quality early care and learning they need to be successful in school and beyond. GA’s system for ensuring access to high quality child will benefit. This program will demonstrate the value of supporting child care businesses.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

This program will have long lasting impact, beyond the direct impact on the child care programs and the families and children they serve, and those served by the programs in the future. This program will allow QCC to add services and resources to our shared services web portal serving more than 750 child care providers in Georgia. QCC serves on the national advisory committee for shared services. This pilot can also contribute to the shared services model and web portal used in 28 other states. It will also allow QCC to pilot a model of business support, elements of which could be incorporated in the intensive technical assistance we currently provide to more than 600 programs in Georgia annually. If we are successful in persuading the state to incorporate business metrics in the state's Quality Rated program, it could impact the Quality Rated services and supports provided statewide by GA's child care resource and referral system, and others. Developing a mutual understanding of how state funded small business agencies and services can work with and support the child care industry in GA could provide statewide access to new resources, including capital and tax credits and incentives, to support child care business success and expansion.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

The children in GA who are most likely to miss out on the benefits of high quality early care and learning are the younger children, birth to three, from low income families, who are not served by GA’s publicly funded Pre-K program. Increasing access to quality child care for these children will prepare them for success in school and beyond. By working with child care programs in low income communities and child care deserts, we can increase access to high quality child care for their children and their families. The systems change elements of this program will strengthen the child care industry as a whole, ensuring that resources are used wisely to provide quality programming, including for our most vulnerable children, while keeping fees as affordable for families as possible.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (5000 characters)

Most programs and services aimed at increasing access to quality child care for low income families focus on improving the educational quality of the programs or expanding the supply of programs. In fact, the investment in quality improvement and QRIS systems nationally has been significant (although more is still needed). What gets relatively little attention is the business aspect of early learning programs. In an under-resourced market based child care system that is a big mistake. Quality Care for Children has worked in the child care field in metro Atlanta for more than 35 years. During that time we have probably touched every licensed child care program in Atlanta helping them to achieve national accreditation or meet the state's Quality Rated standards. And they are able to maintain the higher level of quality for a time. Eventually though, financial constraints, some related to poor business practices, negatively impact their quality. They limit a program's ongoing investment in the elements of a quality program, or force them to close their doors permanently. We know from cost models that the market based system of child care does not work for low and many middle income families. It simply costs more to provide quality child care than parents are able to pay. This is a problem that gets too little attention. Even speaking about it is a bit taboo in some circles because it calls into question many of the investments we continue to make in quality improvement. Getting child care programs to employ sound business practices, take advantage of cost and time savings through shared services, and leverage all existing small business resources and tax benefits will not completely close the gap between what quality costs and what parents can afford to pay. However, these strategies can make the gap smaller. At that point, perhaps we can close the gap completely with other strategies, e.g., higher subsidy reimbursement rates, tax credits for the child care workforce, etc. If we can make quality more affordable and more sustainable, the resources we invest in helping families pay for care, in training the workforce, and in our QRIS systems and quality improvement efforts, will go farther and have a much more sustained impact. There is a recognition in some circles about the need to invest in the business side of child care. Shared services is one example. However, we believe that more comprehensive approach that also leverages existing small business resources for child care, while making sure those resources are appropriate for the child care industry, e.g., loans are right-sized, business plans recognize all available funding streams, revenue models are realistic and recognize how providers' business decisions can be influenced by their relationships with children and families , etc. is innovative.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

This program is designed to ultimately make changes to benefit the child care industry as a whole in Georgia, as well as the state systems, e.g. Quality Rated, child care resource and referral agencies, shared services alliance, that support that industry. Similarly it could impact shared services alliances nationwide. Our goal is not to create a new stand alone program. Rather we hope to give increased focus to the business needs and supports of child care programs that can be addressed through existing programs and mechanisms, e.g., good business practices reinforced by incorporating metrics in the state's QR system, incorporating business technical assistance within the TA system of the child care resource and referral agencies, and increasing access to existing business services and supports already provided by state-supported small business services agencies and technical colleges.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

We believe this idea is feasible. We have the data to help us identify and target potential child care program participants. We have strong relationships with programs in the Metro Area and typically find them receptive to the programs and services we offer. Child Care Cooperative is supportive of the program and interested in participating. They already provide services to some programs in Atlanta and provide free training to members of our shared services alliance. We are already engaged with the state to identify and catalog free state supported small business resources. QCC is constantly updating and adding to the Shared Services Alliance web portal. Adding new resources and information to that site is standard business. QCC's technical assistance staff are very experienced in working closely with child care programs. The capacity to provide business related TA varies among staff. We have identified staff who currently have the capacity and staff who would need additional training and support. QCC staff work closely with the state Department of Early Care and Learning who is responsible to the state's Quality Rated system. We find them to always be open to new ideas, especially when those ideas have been tested and data related to their effectiveness can be provided.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (5000 characters)

We believe that there will be interest in this service among child care programs and that it can be effective in improving the financial sustainability and expansion of child care programs. An initial upfront investment will allow us to integrate this service in QCC's statewide shared services alliance. Further, incorporating business metrics into the state's Quality Rated system and expanding Quality Rated technical assistance to include business related support will make this effort sustainable for the long term.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (5000 characters)

We have worked closely with child care programs for many years and have learned from them about their challenges, concerns and priorities. In developing our shared services program (The GA Alliance for Quality Child Care) we held several focus groups to determine what assistance programs wanted, how shared services could best support them, and what role they saw, if any, for Quality Care for Children. Our shared services alliance was developed based on this input. We survey members of the Alliance annually asking them to evaluate our current Shared Services Alliance, and to tell us what additional business related assistance they need. We also conduct occasional issues related surveys of all GA child care programs, the most recent one looking at staffing. We have regular Director to Director meetings in three regions of the state where business challenges are discussed and training and resources are provided. This is supported through an online chat group of Directors which gives them the opportunity to share resources and knowledge among themselves and continue their conversation. Our partner, Child Care Cooperative, currently works intensively with a small number of programs around their financial and record keeping systems. This has given them the opportunity to understand the business of child care from the child care provider's perspective and to see the challenges first hand. All of this information has contributed to the program plan outlined in this proposal. Having said that, it is standard operating procedure for QCC to begin any new program by soliciting provider input and modifying the plan if needed.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

In 1979, Nancy Travis founded an office of Save the Children with a vision that every young child would receive quality early learning. She knew then through experience what research has now proven – children who receive quality early learning opportunities are better able to success in school and life. In 1998, the organization became Quality Care for Children (QCC), an independent Atlanta-based nonprofit providing child care food programs statewide and child care resource and referral services to 10 metro Atlanta counties. Since then, QCC has expanded its programs and service area. In 2009, QCC expanded the number of counties in its service area to 46 and was awarded the contract to establish the first statewide child care referral service, 877-ALL-GA-KIDS. For more than 35 years, QCC has worked to ensure Georgia’s infants and young children are nurtured and educated. We employ a robust portfolio of programs and services and strong partnerships with child care experts and organizations to achieve our vision that every child will reach their full potential and enter school ready to learn. QCC is a leading resource for parents, child care providers and community leaders in Georgia seeking information and support to provide excellent care and secure the quality early learning experiences that all infants and children – regardless of race, gender, or economic background – deserve. Led by Pam Tatum since 2004, QCC helps more than 100,000 children – primarily from low-income families – benefit from high-quality early education each year. We accomplish this by focusing on CREATING QUALITY (providing training and resources to child care providers to increase the overall quality of care) and ENSURING ACCESS (helping parents access affordable, quality care for their children to ensure the best early learning experiences). Over the years, QCC’s programs have been showcased nationally as best practices. QCC has received numerous awards recognizing efforts to provide children with quality care, including finalist for Carter Presidential Award for work in building the supply of quality child care in metro Atlanta’s Latino/Hispanic community, and the Doris Duke Foundation’s Exemplary Program Award for work in providing family support through child care settings. In addition, QCC received the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta’s 2013 Managing for Excellence Award, in recognition of the leadership and management practices that drive our success. QCC works closely with child care programs in low income areas and we know how important those programs are to the children and families they serve. Many of those programs are struggling and at risk of closure. They provide quality child care and try to keep their fees affordable for families. Yet their poor business practices and financial management is putting their programs at risk. They need better business skills and computerized management systems, but cannot get there without our help.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

Yes

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

We would like to learn from other organizations providing business related technical assistance to child care program. We are especially interested in different staffing models for providing this support, e.g., developing this expertise among existing TA staff whose primary background is child development, employing a special business TA team, etc. . We are also interested in how others are using community resources outside the early care and education field to support the child care industry.

Would you like mentoring support?

  • No

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

To visit the GA Alliance web portal and see the resources provided by the shared services alliance, visit www.GAQCCmembers.net. email pam.tatum@qualitycareforchildren.org for login and password information. https://twitter.com/QCCGeorgia https://www.facebook.com/QCCGeorgia https://www.flickr.com/photos/124105513@N06/sets/with/72157649175287389 https://www.linkedin.com/company/1045183/

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