When American Rescue Plan Funds arrived, Debbie Mize, director of Child Care Aware of Northcentral Arkansas, knew the best way to invest it in Conway County would be to increase the number of quality child care options. The Conway County E8 Community spearheaded a movement that will increase quality in 40 percent of the child care facilities in the county. Learn more about Child Care Aware’s efforts in our Q&A with Debbie:

Who benefits from increased quality child care? 

The entire community benefits from having quality child care. Families have peace of mind knowing their children are receiving safe and reliable care. Children are successful and enter kindergarten prepared and ready to learn. Schools are more successful when they have children who are prepared to become learners. And in turn, the community benefits from having successful students who are prepared for their futures.

When the Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education received the funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to stabilize and expand child care, how did your organization step in to help child care businesses take advantage of the funding?

We hit the ground running on day one and were able to guide the programs through the process. From accessing the links and understanding how to apply to what was covered in the application and budgeting processes, we conducted needs assessments within our counties so we could help justify the need for additional child care and help shore up the applications. At times, we were getting more than 20 calls per day from providers within our 14 county service area with grant questions or asking for assistance with child care quality ratings.

What have providers in Conway County done to impact their quality rating? 

Many have supported additional professional development for staff, completed the Program Administrative Scale, created policies and procedures to address business issues, added curriculum and, for many, changed the perception of why quality is essential to not only the children but the overall program.

In Conway County, what have child care providers seen as the benefits and challenges of increasing their quality rating? 

The biggest challenge for programs has been accessing and finding time to complete the required classes and putting the portfolio together. The nationwide problem of having sufficient staffing and adequate substitutes continues to be an issue for these institutions. There are many benefits including 1) administrators and staff completing additional professional development to help the team maintain and sustain a quality program.  2) receiving a higher reimbursement rate for subsidy pay or vouchers for qualifying children and taking pride in having achieved a higher-quality rating.

What remaining steps are there to continue to improve quality child care in Conway County?

There are three levels of quality in the Better Beginnings Star-Rated Quality system, and each level has specific requirements. Most of the programs in Conway County are now at levels two or three. Later this year, the system is expected to expand to include levels 4-6, allowing for growth and the opportunity to continue moving up the rating scale. 

Child Care Aware (CCA) will continue to support all child care programs in Conway County and its other 14 county service areas. For more information, visit ccana.org or contact CCA at: info@ccana.org.