As a parent coach I often answer questions for parents on the difference in quality levels. It does take a little detail to understand the difference and sinch choosing quality care is one of the most important things parents can do for their child here is my explanation.
Licensing is an approval by the state which says you have me the minimum standards you need to meet to open your doors for business. It has nothing to do with how well the center takes care of children. The knowledge of the director or staff, whether the center has a quality educational program or was just opened last week with a brand-new director and barely trained staff.
Licensing has some general requirements: first it must meet the obligation of any business including: fire, sewer, water, occupancy, and zoning approval and permits. Then every state has specific requirements for child care programs. These are the basics a certain amount of space to approve a certain number of children, the age of these children, the number of materials needed to care for and provide food for the children. This is a detailed and specific list or requirements. However, again this is simply to say you may open your center and provide childcare.
Quality Rated is provided by states to get child care centers on the path to improving the quality of their centers. These programs vary in scope and design. Here in Georgia a childcare program must be in Good Standing or Support status to be eligible for the Rating Program. They must apply and be accepted. Once accepted they begin the process of working to collect data for their portfolio to become quality rated. This is the first of several; steps om the effort to become a quality rated center. The manual for the program has this to say about it.
Quality Rated is a systemic approach to assess, improve, and communicate the level of quality in early care and education programs. Similar to rating systems for other service related industries, Quality Rated assigns a quality rating to early care and education programs that meet a set of defined program standards. By participating in Quality Rated, early care and education programs embark on a path of continuous quality improvement.
Though not this is far from the level of accreditation quality rating is a way for states to ensure the centers in their stats are growing in quality and that they to show which centers are striving to get to the highest level of quality possible. This process takes between 4-12 months.
Accreditation is the highest level of quality in the US. Child care centers who receive this rating are among the best 2-5% in the country. There are several forms of accreditations, you can be accredited ty a state or any one of another agency which specializes in the care of children (early childhood, after-school, family home care). The level of accreditation varies. Each state does have a process. However, most states statues for “high-quality” fall far beneath the industry standards as set by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. This is important to know and understand because there is more stringent standard in the industry than is present in state acceptability.
Thus, if a center is claiming to be of high-quality it is important to recognize even within the context of quality there are degrees. The term ‘consumer beware” is one which applies in child care. Ask questions about the accreditation authority and check out their website, ask about the accreditation process. How did the canter obtain it? The most stringent accreditation process in the US is done by the National Association for the Education of Young Children or the NAEYC. The process generally takes two years of self-study, preparation for all 10 standards which have detailed and direct specifications of what it takes to meet each one. A center must work as a team with families and staff members to get the right balance of interactions and communication to get and maintain this accreditation. Do not assume because a center was once an accredited center it still meets that standard, because change of staff especially the director can cause a center to lose the level of quality fast!