Smart Start / Catawba County Partnership for Children Basics:
Smart Start was created by then Governor Jim Hunt to ensure that children were entering school healthy and prepared for success, as brain development research and numerous other studies have confirmed the importance of the first five years of a child’s life. The underlying premise of Smart Start is to bring a variety of early childhood services and professionals together to efficiently and effectively serve children and their families. As preparing children for success in kindergarten and beyond is a very complex issue, communities were asked to create strategic plans that addressed their own local needs, including child care, health, and family support needs for children birth to five and their families.
The Catawba County Partnership for Children was created as a private 501(c)3 non-profit agency in 1995 to work with our community collaborators, and a strong Board of Directors, to determine what Catawba County’s greatest needs were for young children and families. Based on this assessment, Smart Start funds have been utilized to develop projects to address our most pressing issues.
One of our local priorities is the child care subsidy program, which provides funding to help lower income families afford child care placements for their children. The child care subsidy program existed at the Department of Social Services prior to the beginning of Smart Start, but with Smart Start funding, we were able to serve even more children with this very important service, allowing parents to work as their children were cared for. Today, 43% of our total Smart Start allocation goes towards our county’s child care subsidy program. (The Smart Start contribution represents a fraction of Catawba County’s total subsidy funding, which also includes other state and federal funding.) Along with this subsidy funding, a total of 80% of our local Smart Start funding goes towards programs and support services related to our child care community (consultation, training, resource and referral, salary supplements for teachers, educational support for teachers). The other 20% of our funding goes towards family support, parent education, and dental services for eligible children.
The Catawba County Partnership for Children is housed in the old Sweetwater Elementary School, which was closed down in 2008. The space serves as a family-friendly center for early childhood services and also provides a significant cost reduction, as we have been able to efficiently house several Smart Start funded projects, several preschool classrooms, and other school-based early childhood programs in the same facility. The collaborative opportunities, as well as the collective cost savings, have been significant.
The Children’s Resource Center is one of our local Smart Start funded activities. They are our county’s child care resource and referral agency, dedicated to educating families about child care options, what quality child care looks like, and about other community resources. In addition, they provide significant support to local child care programs, including centers, half-day programs, and family child care homes, working to improve overall quality and education of staff. They also support new potential child care programs by providing technical assistance and education regarding the licensure system and understanding the local early childhood framework. The CRC is committed to parents having choices about their child care and other service options.
NC’s Licensure System:
The star rated licensure system, which rates the quality of child care programs in North Carolina, was created by the NC Division of Child Development. Smart Start has not had a formal role in creating or updating this system over the years. This star rated licensure system applies to all licensed programs in North Carolina, including private for profit, private non-profit, church-sponsored, corporate sponsored, and public pre-kindergarten classrooms. (The More at Four programs are indeed required to have a rating scale done as part of their licensure process, same as with any licensed program. More at Four classrooms are required to have at least a 5.0 rating scale score.) The Division of Child Development’s website lists ALL licensed programs in the state. You can search by county, type of program, star level, or a number of other characteristics. (The Division’s website is http://www.ncchildcare.net/.)
More at Four:
The More at Four Pre-Kindergarten Program was designed to serve eligible and unserved 4-year olds in a high quality preschool classroom for the year prior to entering kindergarten. Children who are enrolled in a 4 or 5 star child care center are not eligible to participate, as they are already considered to be served. Children are absolutely not recruited from our local child care centers for the More at Four program. The program is designed to find those income eligible children who would previously have had no group care experience prior to starting kindergarten. The state provides some of the funding for these classrooms, and the local hosts for the classrooms (in our case our 3 local school districts and Sipe’s Orchard Home) provide matching funding to make the program free for eligible families. The More at Four program runs on the school calendar, during school hours. It is a parent’s choice to apply for the More at Four program and ultimately, if their child is accepted into the program, to accept that slot for their child. For families that are not accepted, either because they are ineligible or because there is no more space, they are referred to The Children’s Resource Center, our local child care resource and referral agency, for other child care placement options.
This response was submitted by Kim Salyards of the Catawba County Partnership for Children Basics to the article: "Smart Start" putting Private Childcare out of Business?