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August 10, 2011

Best Beginnings STARS to Quality Program off to a great start

The Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) announced today that 59 early childhood programs across the state have been awarded STARS under the new Best Beginnings STARS to Quality Program.

DPHHS Director Anna Whiting Sorrell said the program is making an impact. "Our children deserve the best start in life that we can provide," Whiting Sorrell said. "We’re excited about the great participation in the program by child care providers statewide who are receiving valuable training and support from the STARS to Quality Program. So far, about 1,800 children are being impacted and that’s great news."

The STARS to Quality Program is a quality rating improvement system and launched a field test earlier this year with approximately 100 child care programs participating statewide. 

Jamie Palagi of the DPHHS Early Childhood Services Bureau said the program is reaching out to child care centers, Head Start and Early Head Start Programs, and family/group care homes. "We know that a child’s brain develops dramatically and rapidly during the early years from pre-birth to age 5," Palagi said. "The program is geared to help early childhood programs improve their skills to foster the early education needs of children and meet parents’ expectations. We’re excited that so many participants are working their way through this program and earning STARS."

The program works under a 5 STAR system.  Programs must be licensed or registered with DPHHS to participate.  The voluntary program establishes STAR levels to improve quality services for young children, provides an opportunity for parents to make informed decisions about a program’s quality rating, offers coaching and training to child care providers, and validates the accomplishments of the program. So far, 17 providers have earned One Star and 42 are at the Two Star level.

Research-based criteria must be achieved and validated at each Star level including immunizations, nutrition, learning environments and positive behavioral supports. Part of the field test provides for two categories of participants, those who are receiving financial incentives and those who are not.

One participant is Christy Aitchison of the Manhattan Christian Early Learning Center. She has been in business for two years and has applied for One Star. "STARS has given us a focus, to see where we want our center to be, as a team, and as a school," she said. "It’s given us a vision of where we want to be in five years. Without STARS as a road map, we would be all over the place. STARS has assisted us in making leaps and bounds in our program’s quality over the last 9 months." Manhattan Christian Early Learning Center is participating in the program without financial incentives. 

Palagi said the field test will help determine the strengths and challenges of the program from an infrastructure and cost benefit perspective, and from the lens of the early childhood program as well. 

Julie Worrall, owner of Jewel’s Little Gems in Great Falls and a STAR 2 provider, feels that the STARS program has been positive. "It is keeping me in business and it’s important for professionalism and quality care for the children," she said.

Worrall is a provider who is receiving incentives for the program, and has utilized the incentives to provide health insurance as an employer. "It’s important for early childhood professionals to obtain training over and above the eight hours of training that licensing requires," Worrall said. "STARS has many opportunities for training." 
Programs in STARS must demonstrate compliance with criteria established for high quality programs.  High quality programs are based on trained staff and having enough adults to care for the children in small groups; positive relationships with children and families; access and referral to community resources; strong business management; and appropriate curriculum and early care settings to support the way young children learn and develop.

A complete listing of STARS participants can be found at http://www.dphhs.mt.gov/hcsd/childcare/bestbeginnings/STARLevels.shtml

For more information on the program, please visit www.bestbeginnings.mt.gov.
Page last updated: 07/30/2013