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North Carolina Child Care Star-Rating System Explained


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Joyce Robinson, director of The Happy Face School in Raleigh, is proud that her center has earned five stars since the rating program started in 2000. "We've gotten our five-star license three times," Robinson says. "Child care is a lot different than it used to be, and this system helps ensure that the teachers are educated and able to work well with the children."

While Robinson's track record makes it sound easy, the requirements for achieving a five-star rating are pretty intense, and the ratings are important for day-care centers when it comes to attracting parents. "These days, the Internet is such a big factor in almost any sort of research, that when parents go to look for quality child care, they begin by searching for five-star schools," says Allison Frye, director of the Goddard School in Matthews, N.C. And that's just one reason why having a five-star rating is important. It's also a valuable tool when it comes to marketing a school, talking about the school to prospective parents and receiving public recognition.

While the rating system is extremely important for day-care providers, it's also an important tool for parents. If you've searched for child care for your kids, or are looking into day-care options as you anticipate the birth of your first child or plan to re-enter the workforce, you've probably used the star-rated license system as a guide. But what does it really mean?

The history of the stars

The North Carolina Division of Child Development instituted the star-rated licensing program as a way to offer parents more information on the quality of available child-care options. All child-care centers and family child-care homes that are licensed now also receive a star rating, with one star being the minimum.The license is renewed every three years. Religious-sponsored programs continue to operate under a notice of compliance, unless they request a star-rated license.

When the rating system was first introduced, the assessment looked at three areas: staff education, program standards and compliance history. After a revision in 2005, the compliance history was removed.

"They took this requirement off to make the ratings more weighted on staff education and program standards," explains Stephanie Rietschel, former director of the quality improvement project for Randolph Community College, a program that provided technical assistance to help centers improve their ratings.

The compliance history is assessed every six months by the health department, so centers are held to a certain standard even though it's no longer part of the star-rating assessment. Centers have to have at least a 75 percent grade in compliance history to remain open.

"Taking off the compliance history was just a way to eliminate the chance that a center would be meeting the program standards and have a really well-educated staff but overlook something simple in the compliance history and have their star-rating lowered," Rietschel says.

Since the revision, the two components give equal weight to staff education and program standards. For staff education, centers can earn more credit if employees have gone beyond the basic requirements of training. The program standards part of the assessment looks at aspects of the center such as the staff-to-child ratio, the square footage per child, the materials available for kids to play with, and sanitation issues such as how often kids and teachers wash their hands and if they wash them consistently.

Looking at the entire experience

While it's important to pay attention to the star rating of your child's center, it's not the only thing parents need to look at. "North Carolina provides the star-rated licensing program to us as a guide, and I think parents should look at it as just that, an indicator of quality," says Erin Reiter, director of family support for Child Care Services Association in Raleigh.

So what else should a parent consider when choosing a child-care center? Here is some advice from professionals around the state.

First, be sure to visit each center that you are considering. "Make an unannounced visit and ask for a tour," Rietschel says. "While you're there, make sure they take you through all the classrooms and watch to see if the teachers are happy and that the students are engaged, either with materials, the teachers or each other."

Katherine Davis, director of The Growing Place in Asheboro, suggests looking at the environment. "While you can't really change your building, whether it's old or new, you can make sure that it's clean and organized. And if it is an older building, check that current safety precautions have been met."

Staying up to code also is important. "When visiting a center, make sure they have a handbook for you and their license displayed," says Faye Anderson, owner of Faye's Daycare in Greensboro for 18 years. "You should also make sure they're following the rules as far as health and safety, and provide good, nutritional meals and snacks."

Resources for parents

There are plenty of resources in North Carolina to turn to for help when it's time to make that big decision of where your child will spend part of his days away from you. Most parents will start their search online, and the North Carolina Division of Child Development has a Child Care Facility Search, which is a good place to start. You can search by ZIP code, type of center and age of child, and the results will tell you the facility's rating, the services they provide and a link to a Web site if available. Carolina Parent also offers an online directory of child-care facilities and preschools.

It's also a good idea to visit your local Child Care Resource and Referral Agency (CCR&R). Child Care Services Association, which is a nationally recognized nonprofit agency working to ensure affordable, accessible, high-quality child care to all families, provides child-care resource and referral services to the Triangle.

"We want parents to come to us when looking for child care," Reiter says. "Our services are free, and we're here to help." In addition to resources, checklists and advice on what to look for, representatives at your local CCR&R have access to a database of all child-care facilities with the ability to do a more customized search, helping find quality centers based on factors such as proximity to parents' work, classroom size and services provided.

Of course, some of your best resources will be other parents. "When I was looking for child care for my now 1-year-old daughter, I talked with friends before calling the centers," says Kim Raper of Durham. "The biggest factor influencing my decision was finding the best quality day care for a good price, and while doing my research I found centers don't list pricing in their ads." Raper was able to use her friends to find centers within her price range before spending a lot of time visiting places she couldn't afford.

When it comes to choosing a child-care facility, the most important advice is to follow your instincts. "I tell people to go with their gut feeling," Frye says. "Star ratings are important, but they don't always tell the whole story. Once you have your rating, it's good for three years, but in this industry things can change quickly. For example, if you have a big turnover, the level of staff education could change dramatically overnight."

Be sure to visit, walk through the school, pay attention to how you feel about the place and talk with the teachers. If you feel comfortable, your child will feel comfortable, too.

Karen Alley is the Web editor for Piedmont Parent, a sister publication of Carolina Parent.

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February 2016

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Cost: Free

Where:
Ashworth Village
111 W. Chatham St.
Cary, NC  27511
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Harris Lake County Park
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Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Cost: $5/family

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Crowder District Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Girls and their fathers spend an evening dancing, playing games and more. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $20/couple. $5 additional daughter

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Camp Chestnut Ridge, Morris Center
4300 Camp Chestnut Ridge Rd.
Elfland, NC  27243
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Telephone: 919-304-2178
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Cost: $25/child, $15/sibling

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3419 Apex Peakway
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Cost: $12/resident, $16/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Older participants take a short hike and practice bird count data collection, while younger participants count how many different kinds of birds that can been seen from the park's front porch....

Cost: Free

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Telephone: 919-870-4330
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Older participants take a short hike and practice bird count data collection, while younger participants count how many different kinds of birds that can been seen from the park's front porch....

Cost: Free

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Telephone: 919-870-4330
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Cost: $5/family

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
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New Hill, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-4342
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Cost: $4/child

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Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Cost: $12/resident, $16/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Learn what makes birds interesting and gain skills to become a birdwatcher. Create bird-friendly items for a yard. Ages 6-13. Registration required.

Cost: $10/child

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
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Cost: $7

Where:
Monkey Joe’s Raleigh
6220 Glenwood Ave. Ste. 104
Raleigh, NC  27612
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Cost: Free

Where:
Spanish for fun! Cary
100 Endeavor Way
Cary, NC  27513
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Sponsor: Spanish for fun!
Telephone: 919-677-7114
Contact Name: Cynthia De Amat
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Cost: Free

Where:
Duke Child and Family Study Center
2608 Erwin Rd., Lakeview Pavilion East
Suite 300
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Sponsor: DUKE ADHD Program & DUKE Children's Primary Care
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Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

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Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Cost: Free

Where:
Spanish for fun! Raleigh
8000 Glenwood Ave
Raleigh, NC  27612
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Sponsor: Spanish for fun!
Telephone: 919-881-1160
Contact Name: Carol Marin
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Children delight in discoveries of shapes, colors and textures in nature. Ages 1 and older with parent. Registration required.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Cost: Free

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Thrift 2 Gift
1402 E. Williams St.
Apex , NC  27502
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Spanish for fun! Wake Forest
222 Capcom Ave
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Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
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Telephone: 919-387-4342
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Holly Springs Cultural Center
300 W. Ballentine St.
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Wilkerson Nature Preserve
11408 Raven Ridge Rd.
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Telephone: 919-996-6764
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Cost: Free

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Historic Stagville
5828 Old Oxford Hwy.
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Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
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Telephone: 919-387-4342
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Cost: $5/person

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1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Cost: $12/resident, $16/nonresident

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Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Cost: Free

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Hillsborough Visitors Center
150 E. King St.
Hillsborough, NC
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Wilkerson Nature Preserve
11408 Raven Ridge Rd.
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Telephone: 919-996-6764
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Cost: Free

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760 S.E Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
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Cost: $8/member, $10/nonmember

Where:
N.C. Botanical Garden
100 Old Mason Farm Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC  27517
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Sponsor: North Carolina Botanical Garden
Telephone: 919-537-3770
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Cost: $5/child

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Durant Nature Preserve
8305 Camp Durant Rd.
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Cost: $5/box

Where:
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301 Little River Park Way
Rougemont, NC  27572
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Telephone: 919-732-5505
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