The state’s licensing process isn’t limited to new safety provisions. CYFD, along with 18 other states’ departments, has a one- to five-star child care quality evaluation system much like ones used to rate motels or restaurants. Higher stars correspond to excellence in factors that research suggests are integral to high-quality child care: teachers’ level of education and the type of curriculum kids are exposed to.
CYFD has eight Training and Technical Assistance Program offices around the state that help providers navigate this star system, and check facilities and classrooms for compliance.
Many child care providers SFR contacted had even more grievances against the state’s pedagogical reviews under its “Look for the STARS” rating system.
That system recently got stricter, though providers have until July 2012 to come into compliance.
The current one-star rating is being phased out, so that all licensed homes must meet the two-star requirements. Under the two-star rating, providers are required to have different “centers of interest” in the facility that children can choose from and access themselves. Hussey says she is a one-star center by choice because she wants to do more structured, preschool-like activities with her kids, rather than have them choose activities at random.
“I worked with the public schools, and I designed my program for the needs of the child entering public schools and what they lack,” Hussey says. “Now, the state wants me to change all of this to get a two-star…it pretty much contradicts the governor’s new wishes of making sure every child learns and they read, when in fact [under the star system] they just want more free time activity, and let the children pick and choose what they want to do during the course of the day. You have to have some form of structure.”
Edna Nadel, who has run her home-based care in Edgewood for 15 years, says having all of the activities accessible to young children at any time is impractical.
“You have to set up all the stations in one room [for two-star licensing],” Nadel says. “I don’t because some of the kids, if you are looking after infants and toddlers, you can’t let them paint on their own! It’s ridiculous!”
Rodriguez says she is going to start arguing more strenuously when she is “written up” for allegedly missing elements of her two-star licensing, now that CYFD is beginning to institute financial sanctions for incompliance.
“They come and they tell me stuff like, ‘You don’t have [the multicultural requirements] in here,’ and I’m like, ‘What do you mean I don’t have multicultural in here? Look at my banners; they have multicultural children on there! Look at my art area—I have crayons that are skin-toned!’” Rodriguez says. “Instead of saying, ‘Show me where you have this,’ they tell me that I don’t have it. It creates a bad rapport between the provider and the auditing agency.”
Even Fernandez says the rationale behind some of the rules is less clear than for others.
“We have a pretty stringent regulation system comparatively to other states, which is a good thing, but there are some things in it that are like, ‘OK…?’” Fernandez says. “But you just kind of do the best you can and work within that.”
Each TTAP center used to include a Child Care Resource and Referral Service that parents could call for help finding the best child care in the area for their particular situation. Last year CCRR was consolidated into one Albuquerque office with an annual budget of $120,000. It maintains a website where parents can plug in their kids’ ages, their home zip codes and other factors and receive a recommendation. CCRR also will give a more personalized recommendation, but says it doesn’t recommend particular providers. In a year, CCRR receives an average of 170 calls for referrals—less than one every two days.
CYFD, in particular the Child Care Assistance Program, would be one beneficiary of an amendment to the state constitution that some legislators are trying to have put to a vote, Kayne says. Senate Joint Resolution 10 would allow voters to decide if the state should allocate a larger percentage of the state Land Grant Permanent Fund to early childhood education. Another bill would create a state early learning advisory council to improve the communication between various state entities whose work impacts young children’s development.
At the newly built Amanacer Early Head Start site, Wickstrom knocks on the table she’s sitting at, the wall behind her and the wood doorframe when she says she hopes her program gets more funding—or at least doesn’t face cuts.
“Oh, God,” she says with a laugh. “Get some more wood!” SFR