Imperative #4 Guarentee safe and inspiring learning environments for our children
Summary: Safe and inspiring learning environments lay the foundation for high quality early childhood experiences. The physical location and environment of early childhood programs has a tremendous influence on children, families, and providers. The quality and design of these environments can not only ensure safety and comfort, but also actively promote development, learning, and positive social interactions. Locating programs near where parents live or work is fundamental to their ability to access child care, allowing them to work and support their families. Unfortunately, many Detroit families lack a safe, inspiring place to send their children for early childhood care.
Detroit's Early Childhood Education facilities lack both adequate supply of available ECE seats and a properly defined set of criteria to define a high quality learning environment. First, there are simply not enough high quality childcare providers to meet the needs of Detroit youth (9). There are over 55,000 children below the age of 5 in Detroit, and a gap of over 23,000 seats needed to fill the demand for childcare among this group. (31) Beyond this dearth of quality opportunities, the city offers no set of shared criteria on which to evaluate the quality of ECE facilities (9). The initial Hope Starts Here Community Survey indicate that this is an important area for imporvement as “safe, healthy, and clean,” childcare was the top priority of respondents (9). Addressing these challenges will require significant investment. First policymakers and local authorities should work to establish standardized definitions and criteria for Facilities that allow ECE programs to have an optimal impact. Additionally, we must invest in our ECE providers to ensure that meeting these standards is a possible given their already daunting financial constraints.
The work of IFF and the Great Start Office align well this imperative and priority 4.1 of the HSH framework. Advocates should continue building off the work of these partners to both evaluate the quality of facilities and help to invest in better facilities with larger capacity.
Case Studies and Evaluations (Research):
-Ensure facility quality is aligned with programmatic quality in existing high quality ECE programs
- Conduct assessments of facility quality using a standardized rating system
-Develop innovative, data-informed exemplar ECE centers
-Increase resources and tools that support best practice in the design, development, and renovation of ECE learning environments
-Create champions to advocate for a revised quality rating system that incorporates facility quality
-Secure resources to enable facility improvements
In 2007, ECCE stakeholders in Michigan presented recommendations for a Quality Rating and Improvement System to improve the quality of ECE care. Subsequently a QRIS for the state of Michigan was designed, tested, and implemented (32). Michigan’s QRIS, known as Great Start to Quality, now exists as a resource for all ECCE stakeholders in Michigan, and provides a rating to licensed providers ranging from 1 to 5 starts based on a validated self assessment. (32). However the QRIS system does not directly assess the quality of the environment and facilities of ECE programs, the criteria on this matter only evaluates providers for the absence of environmental health hazards (32). IFF currently offers learning spaces grants between $5,000 to $50,000 dollars, to improve facility quality and capacity, for providers in Detroit who have recieved at least a 3-star rating. (33). These providers are also offered financial and technical consulting services.