LISA A. HILDEBRAND, recently named director of the Rhode Island Association for the Education of Young Children, sees the organization's efforts at rating and improving child care and early learning opportunities as key to well-being of the state's children.
Lisa A. Hildebrand was recently promoted to director of the Rhode Island Association for the Education of Young Children, which is the managing agency for BrightStars, the state’s ratings and improvement system designed to support high-quality child care in Rhode Island. The Rhode Island AEYC is the state affiliate of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, which are both dedicated to improving the well-being of young children.
PBN: The mission of your organization is to promote quality education and the healthy development of children from birth through age 8. How do you achieve that?
HILDEBRAND: We are proud to be a part of this wonderful organization, founded in 1926, that has led the way toward excellence in early care and education.
We believe children should have access to high-quality child care. We work toward this by enabling early learning and school-age programs across the state to first understand their quality and to then improve the quality of care they provide to children.
We believe parents should be informed about issues related to quality child care and that information on quality should be used to make choices about their children’s care and education. Our purpose is to increase family access to high-quality early care and school-age programs that support children’s learning, development, and school success.
PBN: BrightStars is a rating system for child care services. Which types of services are covered and how does the system work?
HILDEBRAND: BrightStars is Rhode Island’s Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement System for child care and early learning programs. Through its five-star rating system, BrightStars uses research-based standards to measure and support program quality in child care and early learning programs, including child care centers, preschools located in public schools, family child care homes and school-age programs.
BrightStars assesses participating programs across multiple quality standards and criteria, and one or more unannounced site visits may be conducted, depending on the size of the program and the star rating they have applied for. Following the assessment, we assign the program a star rating and then we work with programs to further implement best practices related to quality.
Participating in BrightStars allows programs to expand on best practices in child care and early education, develop goals and strategies to guide improvement, and access state resources that support program quality developed through the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge federal grant.
BrightStars also helps families in Rhode Island find licensed quality child care, early learning and afterschool programs.
Families looking for child care may call BrightStars at (855) 398-7605, 24 hours a day, seven days a week through a partnership with United Way 2-1-1 or visit our website www.BrightStars.org.
PBN: The state recently received a Race to the Top grant to expand the BrightStars service. How will that affect it?
HILDEBRAND: It already has! Last July, the BrightStars contract was increased significantly. We have been able to increase the staff from four to 17 in order to rate and then support programs as they move up the quality continuum.
A large piece of the Race to the Top goals involve encouraging more programs to participate in BrightStars, and the Department of Human Services has recently revised their regulations to require programs receiving state funds to participate, which has greatly increased our applications and overall numbers over the last few months. Formerly, the program was voluntary.
The Race to the Top funds are also providing additional support for BrightStars participants through professional development, targeted technical assistance and grant funds for program improvements. It is all very exciting!
PBN: What are the biggest obstacles to safe and effective child care for children up to 8 years old, and what does your agency do to overcome them?
HILDEBRAND: Across the United States, large numbers of children and youth spend time in non-parental care arrangements. These children and families need access to high-quality early education and after-school programs that support their learning, development, growth and school success. Research has demonstrated a significant link between the quality of early care and education and children’s later academic and social skills. In addition, brain development research underscores the importance of providing high-quality, enriching experiences for very young children, because those experiences form the foundation for later learning. Without a system to identify high-quality early learning environments and education and referrals to find those environments, families are left to make choices that may not benefit children long term.
PBN: How does Rhode Island compare nationally in delivering these services effectively?
HILDEBRAND: Rhode Island AEYC is committed to improving the well-being of all young children and the work we do through BrightStars supports this mission. Quality rating and improvement systems now exist in approximately 32 states across the country, but Rhode Island’s system is one of the most developed and we have a unique model when compared to other states.
One of the biggest factors that makes us unique is the fact that we have integrated the referral and education components for families into the rating and improvement system to assist them in making informed choices about their children’s care and education. This means when a family calls us for a child care referral, we can give them very accurate information about the quality of a program based on the BrightStars standards if the program participates with us.
Some families are interested in a program that has a specific curriculum, or a program with a lot of family communication, and we can help them find programs that meet their needs. And because United Way 2-1-1 handles our referral line, families can also learn about other support services in the state that they qualify for at the same time that they may are finding child-care options.
Other factors that we are proud of are that the standards are heavily based in research and have recently gone through a revision to make them even stronger; that we have a large community of providers and organizational support to provide us feedback; and we have built relationships with programs that are engaging in continuous quality improvement with lasting results.
More than 38 percent of our participating programs have increased their star level since joining, and we look forward to working with more programs throughout the state in the coming months. We have a wonderful staff dedicated to their work, and we have a reminder every time we see the faces of our youngest citizens how very important that work is!