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Darlene Rautenkranz, owner of Lotta’ Lovin’ Daycare of Reading, has earned two stars in the Parent Aware program. Administered through the Southwest Minnesota Opportunity Council locally, Parent Aware is a star rating program for daycare providers and daycare centers in Minnesota. Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe

Parent Aware program expands

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WORTHINGTON — A quality rating system for family childcare providers, childcare centers and preschools is slowly gaining momentum in southwest Minnesota two years after its official launch in the state.

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Parent Aware was started as a pilot project in Minnesota from 2007 to 2011 to see how it would work compared to rating programs already in use in neighboring states. It was implemented in small areas of the state in 2012, and is steadily expanding.

The program is funded by a federal Race to the Top grant, which began Jan. 1, 2012, and expires at the end of 2015. By then, the plan is that Parent Aware will have launched in every county across Minnesota. The Minnesota departments of Health, Education and Human Services are all involved in program oversight.

Nobles County was the first to launch the program in southwest Minnesota in 2013, followed by Lyon County in January. To date, there are 17 providers participating in the voluntary program.

Parent Aware offers up to four stars for each provider through a step process. All ratings are available online to help parents decide where to take their children for care.

“Earning a star really does show that you’re going above and beyond … what is required,” said Karen DeBoer, director of Region 8 Child Care Aware and based at the Southwest Minnesota Opportunity Council in Worthington.

By the time a provider reaches the fourth star level, she or he will have taken more than 100 hours in early childhood development, completed an overview of curriculum and assessment, and proven to be implementing best practices for kids, DeBoer explained.

Karen Gadda is a quality coach for SMOC, staffed at the Worthington office. She works with all of the Nobles and Lyon county providers enrolled in Parent Aware to create learning plans and conduct assessments.

With 449 early childhood programs — from family child care to childcare centers, preschools and school-aged care programs — in the nine counties of southwest Minnesota (41 in Nobles County), there is much opportunity for growing Parent Aware and providing the best for children.

“A childcare provider has so much opportunity to help get kids ready for school,” DeBoer said. “This is a program they can use to ensure kids are ready with both physical and social development.”

To achieve a one-star rating, the provider must have completed eight hours of basic child development and two hours of authentic observation, DeBoer said.

“Really, don’t we want everyone who’s caring for kids to have basic child development education?” she asked.

The second star is awarded after completing eight hours of early childhood indicators of progress.

“Again, don’t we want everyone who is working with kids to know about the early learning domains?” DeBoer asked.

Darlene Rautenkranz, owner of Lotta’ Lovin’ Daycare at Reading, is a two-star participant in Parent Aware and was the first Nobles County daycare provider to enroll in the program.

“Everybody always needs to learn more about their job to be better at their job,” Rautenkranz said, adding that she’s learned a lot by participating.

As a provider for nearly a dozen years from her Reading home — and before that in Austin and Worthington — Rautenkranz said it’s difficult to find quality daycare in Nobles County. She hopes the rating system keeps families informed.

Rautenkranz is licensed to take up to 12 children, and she has been full for a long time. She’s now working toward her third star in Parent Aware, which involves more class-time trainings.

“The third and fourth (star) are a lot more involved with using curriculum and daily lesson plans,” she said.

DeBoer said providers will have completed 100 hours of class-time training by the time they earn their fourth star. Quality improvement grants are offered to providers to reach new stars, as well as to help cover costs of curriculum and improvement changes.

“The overall goal is just really helping kids get what they need,” she said. “There are thousands of children in childcare in our area. This is just a way to ensure the kids are being cared for in a way that’s positive.”

Participating in Parent Aware benefits both the provider and the families. Providers who have achieved star ratings may qualify for a higher childcare reimbursement rate from the Childcare Assistance Program, while families who use a quality-rated childcare program can access early learning scholarships.

“Last May, the legislature awarded $43 million in early learning scholarships,” said DeBoer, adding that individual families can receive up to $5,000. “In our nine counties, there is about $700,000 available.”

To see if your daycare provider has a star rating or to learn which providers locally are in the program, visit parentawareratings.org.

“There is also information on that site on what providers can do to get their ratings,” DeBoer said.

Providers have two opportunities to enroll in Parent Aware, with entrance into the program each Jan. 1 and July 1.

“Right now we are doing recruiting for the July 1 cohort,” DeBoer said.

If a provider is interested in getting started, contact DeBoer at kdeboer@smoc.us or Gadda at kgadda@smoc.us.

“Earning a star definitely shows that the provider has put some effort into their business,” DeBoer said. “Some of it just fits well with what providers are already required to do.”

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

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Julie Buntjer
Julie Buntjer joined the Daily Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington and graduate of Worthington High School, then-Worthington Community College and South Dakota State University, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. At the Daily Globe, Julie covers the agricultural beat, as well as Nobles County government, watersheds, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys needlework (cross-stitch and hardanger embroidery), reading, travel, fishing and spending time with family. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at www.farmbleat.areavoices.com.
(507) 376-7330
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