SHINING BRIGHT: Debbie Durant, director of the Smith Hill Early Childhood Learning Center, works with children at the Providence nonprofit. She praises the BrightStars system for helping the center raise its rating.
PBN PHOTO/TRACY JENKINS
By Patricia Daddona PBN Staff Writer
At the Smith Hill Early Childhood Learning Center in Providence, enrollment for children has almost doubled over two years with improved ratings from BrightStars, a nonprofit that is expanding to meet the demand for quality child care.
Nonprofit Smith Hill Director Debbie Durant says the enrollment of children up to age 5 has climbed from 45 in 2012 to capacity at 84 today, with a waiting list of 13. In citing the increase, Durant praised the BrightStars system, which rates child care centers, school-aged programs and home-based providers in Rhode Island, for helping Smith Hill improve its rating from two in 2012, just above meeting basic needs, to four out of a possible five for exemplary care today.
“It’s made a huge difference,” Durant said of the rating system, “raising the quality. The parents see it, and they refer other families here.”
With $3.4 million in federal and state educational funding, the Warwick-based BrightStars system has since November added 13 staffers to its core of four, said Lisa A. Hildebrand, the BrightStars director.
As it expands to work with a field of nearly 1,000 child care centers, home-based providers and educational programs, the need for higher-quality child care correlates to the need for access to it in a workforce in which parents need it to stay employed or return to work, state officials say.
“Having access to reliable and high-quality child care is extremely important to working parents,” said Rick Brooks, director of the Governor’s Workforce Board. “Often lack of access to affordable, quality care is a real barrier to taking a job.”
According to a 2013 report on “Parents and the High Cost of Child Care,” compiled by the nonprofit advocacy group, Child Care Aware of America, surveys of employers show that “the availability of quality child care improves productivity and reduces absenteeism and turnover.” And that’s apparent to state leaders.
Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee and state lawmakers put into place two pilot programs in the fiscal 2013 budget that are helping ensure the availability of child care to the workforce, according to Sandra Powell, director of the R.I. Department of Human Services, which helps administer the BrightStars contract.
A $150,000 program that partners with DHS and state Department of Labor and Training extends access to child care assistance to individuals who are in training programs to return to the workforce, Powell said. Another $1.5 million pilot allows families with low incomes who earn more money as a result of overtime or a promotion to maintain their child care assistance up until they reach 225 percent of the poverty level.