Child care providers have a chance to shine brightly with four-star rating system.

Parent Aware, a new rating system for southern Minnesota-based child care providers, is now available in Olmsted County.

Led by the Minnesota Department of Human Services in coordination with Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) and Child Care Aware of Southern Minnesota, the one-to-four-star rating system aims to help parents find high-quality child care.

"Parent Aware is a tool to help parents understand what to look for when choosing a child care provider," said Barb Miller, program director of Child Care Aware of Southern Minnesota.

The program is multifaceted and is designed to improve and support high-quality child care and early learning programs. Providers who volunteer to be rated receive access to quality improvement grants and consultants who coach them through the improvements needed to increase quality.

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"The one-to-four-star rating depends on different indicators providers are measured on," Miller said. "Each star is like a building-block. So a one-star provider isn't worse than a two star — it just hasn't been built up yet. It's a process."

Providers begin at a "Building Quality" stage, where they work with CCR&R to prepare for a quality rating.

"Building Quality is the first six months prior to Parent Aware," Miller said. "We give providers additional training, one-on-one coaching and improvement support dollars. Not everyone has to go through Building Quality."

Once in Parent Aware, providers chart their progress in a curriculum of physical health and well-being, teaching and relationships, assessment of child progress, and teacher training and education. Afterwards, providers submit their data to Parent Aware for assessment and a one-to-four-star rating.

"More children are entering school underprepared," Miller said. "This is one way of identifying providers who are committed to ongoing quality improvement focused on getting children ready before they enter kindergarten."

Nancy Lane, of Nancy's Playhouse, is part of the first group of child care providers in Olmsted County participating in Parent Aware.

"I'm in the processing part of the program," Lane said. "I have to submit all of my work, assessments and lesson plans to Parent Aware. Then, they will award ratings."

Lane's child care program uses a curriculum that covers areas essential to early learning like cognitive, social and emotional development and large-to-small muscle development.

"I have a responsibility to make the time I have with kids as high-quality as possible," Lane said. "Parent Aware does that by giving me the tools and resources to fine-tune what I'm providing."

Ultimately, Lane hopes the rating will set her apart from other child care providers.

"It will indicate that I have all the training that I need to deliver a high-quality curriculum and program," Lane said. "It will speak of my experience and environment."

"Child care providers who participate in this voluntary rating system … have the opportunity to receive training and technical assistance and coaching to improve their care settings," said Patrick Gannon, executive director of CCR&R. "Parent Aware is about building quality."