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Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson visited Underbakke’s Little Tykes Daycare in Rochester, Minn., today to highlight investments in early childhood education and progress in increasing the number of Parent Aware-rated programs.
Parent Aware is a rating system to help parents find high-quality child care and early education programs to prepare their children for kindergarten. Child care programs that volunteer to be rated may receive quality improvement grants and help from consultants who coach them through the improvements needed to increase quality.
“Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to be fully prepared for kindergarten than their more advantaged peers. Too many will never catch up,” said Jesson, who read to children during her visit. “By investing in quality early education, and giving parents the information they need, more Minnesota children will get a great start in life.”
More than 1,000 early education programs have joined since the state began expansion of Parent Aware in 2012. Parent Aware ratings are currently available to accredited child care, Head Start and school-based pre-kindergarten programs statewide, as well as licensed family child care programs and child care centers in 45 counties and on eight reservations. Parent Aware will expand to the remaining 42 counties and 3 reservations, reaching statewide, in 2015.
Erin Underbakke, who has operated Underbakke’s Little Tykes Daycare for 13 years, said Parent Aware is an excellent resource for both parents and providers seeking high-quality care. She joined Parent Aware when it was expanded to Olmsted County in 2013.
“When I heard about Parent Aware, my first reaction was what an amazing resource for parents. I didn't think about what it would mean for me,” said Underbakke, who received a four-star rating – the highest possible – in June. “The individual coaching, professional development guidance, and funding for quality improvement helped my program increase in quality and I feel we provide a very high standard of care, which can make a profound and lasting difference for children.”
Investments by Gov. Mark Dayton and the Minnesota Legislature are also increasing access to high-quality care. Beginning in March, the department will use part of a $19.4 million investment to incentivize providers to achieve high-quality Parent Aware ratings by paying higher Child Care Assistance Program rates to those with three- or four-star ratings. The budget invested another $40 million in scholarships, administered by the Minnesota Department of Education, to help 8,000 children from families with low incomes enroll in child care and early learning programs in Parent Aware.
Providers interested in joining Parent Aware can call 1-888-291-9811 or visit ParentAwareRatings.org.
Editor’s note: Photos from the visit to Underbakke’s Little Tykes Daycare are available by request.