Home-based Childcare: Building a Quality Network in a Rural State

The Vermont Birth to Three initiative improved my ability to teach the children and be a better childcare provider…”—Barbara Rousseau, Alburg (VT) child care provider and Vermont Birth To Three Mentee

“In the past year working with my VB3 mentor, my whole outlook has changed…I used to think of my work as day care, but now everything is learning-focused…I see the families I serve as one community—we’re all working together with a common goal of providing a safe, happy and well-rounded experience for the children.”—Bridget Duhamel, Alburg (VT) child care provider and Vermont Birth To Three Mentee

Provider_with_childCombating isolation

Home-based childcare providers, especially in a rural state like Vermont, are somewhat isolated. While these providers are surrounded by the cooing, babbling and non-stop activity of infants and toddlers all day, the work environment doesn’t provide the same type of interaction and support that other jobs do. Without anyone to share ideas with or get suggestions from, work as a child care provider can be lonely. Yet the work these providers do with our youngest children is helping to lay an important foundation for the rest of the children’s lives.

The importance of the early years

Research has shown that 90% of core brain development occurs before a child reaches the age of three. Additionally, the quality of the relationships and the environment where our children spend their time can have great impact on their lives—positively and negatively. High quality care especially during these early years lays the groundwork for healthy development and positive outcomes later in life.

Vermont Birth to Three

Vermont Birth to Three (VB3), one of three initiatives established by the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children, is working to improve the quality of childcare to infants and toddlers throughout Vermont by providing support to home-based childcare providers through training, professional development and peer-to-peer relationships. The Permanent Fund, a supporting organization of the Vermont Community Foundation, collaborates with other private foundations and the State to provide a seamless continuum of support for children, starting at birth and bridging into the public schools.

Since 2011, Vermont Birth To Three has received a total of $875,000 in funding from the Permanent Fund to support the home-based child care provider network.

Services for home-based providers

Vermont Birth to Three provides opportunities for home-based providers to advance their professional skills and connect with their peers. Providers are introduced to a mentor from their area who meets with them regularly and helps determine their needs. The mentors offer support and introduce providers to training opportunities and other resources that can help enhance their skills and improve the quality of their childcare.

Providers learn how even little program changes, like adding circle time each morning, incorporating hands-on art projects into the daily routine, creating a reading nook or reorganizing a play space can make a huge difference to the children’s learning.

Quality: The Step Ahead Recognition System (STARS)

The Step Ahead Recognition System (STARS), Vermont’s system for rating childcare quality, is an integral part of Vermont Birth to Three. Providers can earn up to five stars when they make their childcare programs better based on certain quality standards. STARS ratings let parents know that these providers have gone above and beyond what is typically required of any program. Since the start of Vermont Birth to Three, enrollment of childcare providers in the STARS program has grown rapidly. In 2011, only 14% of registered home-based providers were participating in STARS. At the end of 2012, more than 30% were participating.

Childcare providers like Barbara Rousseau or Bridget Duhamel never would have considered doing the paperwork required to initiate the STARS application process—that is, until they met their Vermont Birth to Three mentor Cheryl Wells. Both Rousseau and Duhamel say that the level of support they have received from their mentor has made huge differences in their programs by giving them confidence in their skills and access to a network they didn’t know existed.

“I do this work because I believe in what I’m doing and I know it helps enhance the service of providers,” says Cheryl Wells a VB3 mentor to 33 home-based providers and a childcare provider herself since 1997. “When providers realize they have someone in their corner, it makes all the difference…for them and the children they serve.”