Friday, April 4, 2014

The link between high-quality early learning and lifelong health

Positive experiences in the earliest years result in better physical health throughout life. A new analysis in Science of outcomes for children enrolled in the Abecedarian preschool program in North Carolina confirms that those children have significantly better health as adults than their peers in a control group. 

Children in the program got healthy meals and snacks, as well as high-quality preschool learning and health support. As a result, they were significantly more likely to take good care of themselves as adults, and have lower rates of hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

We at DEL work to ensure all of the programs and services we offer are high quality (measured by Early Achievers) and include a focus on the "whole child," which includes not just learning, but also physical and social/emotional health. 

The analysis concludes that policymakers should use this new research in several ways, including to make sure they integrate health and nutrition into early childhood programs. In Washington, health and nutrition are essential components of our state-funded preschool program and in licensed child care

Read an overview of the analysis here

Read more about the powerful connection between high-quality early learning experiences and lifelong health from our partners at the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Tackling childhood obesity in Washington

Kids don't walk to school anymore (for the most part), and screens and sugary snacks are everywhere. What is a parent to do? 

While recent studies suggest that childhood obesity rates are beginning to decline, 1 out of 12 preschoolers in our nation is obese. We can do better! 

March is National Nutrition Month--a good time to focus on this important issue.

The 2014 Legislature included funding for Gov. Jay Inslee's Healthiest Next Generation Initiative. This will help state agencies--including DEL--do the strategic, coordinated work needed to tackle obesity. The key areas of focus will include supporting breastfeeding-friendly environments, and ensuring healthy early learning and K-12 environments through specific actions with measurable results.

The Department of Health (DOH) will lead this work, along with DEL, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, and other key stakeholders. We will continue providing updates as this work progresses in the coming months.

But whether you are a parent, a child care provider or anyone else with children in your life, there are ways to improve the health of America's next generation starting now. Here are some resources to help get you started:

  • Our partners at DOH have launched a new blog called Adventures in Health, which features their program manager for the Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Program. One of her first posts is about learning her 4-year-old son was in the overweight category based on his body mass index.
  • The Let's Move! Initiative includes ideas and information about physical activity, limiting screen time, and foods and beverages. This includes downloadable action plans for parents, children, schools and child care providers.
  • The USDA Choose My Plate website offers menus, tips for eating healthy on a budget and more.
  • Our partners at Thrive by Five Washington offer tips for fun activities to do with babies and toddlers through their Love. Talk. Play. website.
  • The Washington State Early Learning and Development Guidelines offer age-appropriate activities for children birth through third grade. (Look especially at the sections in each age range called "Touching, seeing, hearing and moving around" and "Growing up healthy.")

Monday, March 17, 2014

DEL issues request for applications for preschool expansion

Today, the Department of Early Learning (DEL) released the application for preschool expansion for the 2014-15 school year. The Legislature funded 1,350 additional slots for next school year (in addition to 350 new slots for the 2013-14 school year). Preschool for eligible children will become a statutory entitlement in school year 2018-19, and state lawmakers are making incremental investments in expanding preschool.

The 1,350 new slots give our state the opportunity for innovation. Our goal is to provide a high-quality, full-day and extended full-day program to as many at-risk 3- and 4-year-old children as possible. Research shows that quality and "dosage" are two key factors to ensure school readiness. 

DEL is planning to implement a new combined funding model to support full-day models in Washington. This new funding strategy braids ECEAP and Working Connections Child Care subsidy funding at the state level (at DEL) and provides successful applicants with a single contract based on a combined cost per child for a year of service. DEL also will develop a single set of standards and monitoring system, so that contractors will have one system of reporting that meets both ECEAP and Working Connections Child Care subsidy requirements.
Building on the success, experience and expertise of the current ECEAP program, this first phase of expansion includes implementing a new full-day preschool model, an extended-day model for full-time working families, as well as opportunities for successful applicants to provide input into the development of other future preschool model components such as flexible/portable comprehensive services and curriculum requirements. 

Overview of preschool options
View the request for applications here. DEL will announce awards in June, and provide ongoing webinars and technical assistance to applicants.

Early learning highlights from 2014 legislative session

The 2014 Legislature adjourned its 60-day legislative session on time on March 13. Here are the early learning highlights:

Supplemental budget
  • 4 percent base subsidy rate increases for both family home and center child care providers in both 2014 and 2015.
  • Funding to pilot tiered reimbursement for Early Achievers participants (higher subsidy rates for child care programs that demonstrate higher quality levels).
  • Funding to maintain DEL’s Medicaid Treatment Child Care program while the state works to seek additional long-term revenue sources for it. 
  • An additional $50,000 for Reach Out and Read, a key DEL partner in improving early literacy.
  • Authorization to use unspent Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funding to support certain vulnerable families with home visiting services through the Home Visiting Services Account.
  • Funding to the Department of Health to work with DEL and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to implement Gov. Jay Inslee’s Healthiest Next Generation Initiative.
  • Direction to DEL to provide up to 20 percent of Working Connections Child Care slots as contracts rather than vouchers. Language allows DEL to “braid” Working Connections and ECEAP funding to support a full-day experience for participating children. DEL is required to report on the number of children served through these contracted slots.
  • Direction to the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and DEL to create a plan to triage child care subsidy overpayment cases to prioritize cases with large overpayments and likelihood of fraudulent activity.
Policy bills
Here is the final status of some key early learning policy bills from 2014:

House Bill 2191, Concerning compliance with inspections of child care facilities
Gov. Inslee signed this bill into law on March 12. HB 2191 requires DEL to consult with city or county enforcement officials prior to requiring alterations of licensed spaces within a family child care home due to inconsistencies in established building codes. It also specifies that unless there is imminent danger, DEL may not modify, suspend or revoke a license while waiting for the consultation or written verification from the county or city. It goes into effect on June 12. 

House Bill 2519, Concerning early education for children involved in the child welfare system
Awaiting Gov. Inslee’s signature. HB 2519 seeks to extend quality early learning opportunities to children in the child welfare system by directing Family Assessment Response (FAR) workers to determine the need for child care, preschool or home visiting services during assessments for child safety and well-being. The bill will allow FAR workers to make child care referrals for non-school age children to licensed child care programs that have attained a level 3, 4 or 5 in our state’s Early Achievers program. FAR rolled out in January 2014 in certain areas of the state and seeks to provide a differential response system for families with accepted reports of child abuse and neglect who have a low to moderate risk of further maltreatment. 

HB 2519 also directs DEL and DSHS to develop recommendations on how to partner to ensure children involved in the child welfare system have access to early learning services and developmentally appropriate child care services. Report is due to Gov. Inslee and appropriate legislative committees by Dec. 31, 2014.

HB 2519 also states that children receiving child protective services or FAR services should receive priority for ECEAP enrollment.

Senate Bill 6093, Allowing valid portable background check clearance cards issued by the Department of Early Learning to be used by certain educational employees and their contractors for purposes of their background check requirements
Awaiting Gov. Inslee’s signature. SB 6093 creates system efficiencies by allowing licensed child care employees working in school district and educational service district settings to only have to secure a DEL background check. Currently, these employees are required to undergo both OSPI and DEL background checks.

House Bill 2377, Improving quality in the early care and education system
The Early Start Act passed the House on Feb. 18, but did not pass the Senate. Two components of the bill are included in the supplemental budget (funding for a tiered reimbursement pilot and a direction to contract out up to 20 percent of Working Connections Child Care slots).

Among other things, HB 2377 would have required child care providers accepting state subsidies to join Early Achievers. The bill generated a great deal of dialogue about the importance of both access and quality, and raised awareness of Early Achievers as our state’s quality framework.  We can expect these issues to arise in subsequent legislative sessions.

House Bill 2165, Concerning Department of Early Learning fatality reviews

This bill passed the House, but did not pass the Senate. It would have required DEL to convene a child fatality review committee if a child fatality occurred in a licensed child care program or ECEAP program.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

DEL seeks parent and primary caregiver input

The Department of Early Learning strives to include parent and primary caregiver voices in our work. It's even in our statute! ("The department shall include parents and legal guardians in the development of policies and program decisions affecting their children.")

We are seeking up to 50 parents and primary caregivers of children birth through 8 to join us for a brainstorming session on April 21 and 22.

Your voice will help us plan for ongoing parent and primary caregiver partnerships so that DEL and partners hear what is important to children, families and communities. This includes helping plan for a strong ongoing Parent Advisory Group.

• 5:30 to 8 p.m. on April 21
• 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 22

Dumas Bay Centre
3200 SW Dash
Point Road
Federal Way, WA 98023

Lodging available for those more than 50 miles away; scholarships available for transportation.

Click here to register by April 1.

For more information, please contact April Messenger at: 

Friday, February 7, 2014

2014 legislative session update

Feb. 7 is the first "cutoff" date for the 2014 Legislature. That means that all bills must be voted out of  the policy committee where they started. View the 2014 Legislative Cutoff Calendar here.

Several early learning-related bills are still being considered, including bills relating to:

Child health

  • House Bill 2643, sponsored by Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, and requested by Gov. Jay Inslee, focuses on childhood obesity prevention by promoting breastfeeding-friendly environments, healthy early learning environments, and healthy school environments.
  • House Bill 2329, sponsored by Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, would establish the Breastfeeding Friendly Washington program as a voluntary program to recognize hospitals, health care providers, employers, and child care programs that meet identified criteria to support breastfeeding.

Child safety

  • House Bill 2165, sponsored by Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Lake Forest Park, would require the Department of Early Learning (DEL) to conduct child fatality reviews for fatalities that occur in licensed child care or state-funded preschool.
  • House Bill 2919, sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth Scott, R-Monroe, and Senate Bill 6234, sponsored by Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, would require DEL to consult with county or city officials before requiring any alterations to a family home child care facility.
  • House Bill 2695, sponsored by Rep. Kagi, would require DEL to: 
    • Provide information on safe sleep practices to applicants for a child care license. 
    • Assess for safe sleep practices during all licensing monitoring visits.
    • Revoke a child care license the second time a provider is found in violation of safe sleep practices.
  • Senate Bill 6093, sponsored by Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Kitsap County, and House Bill 2350, sponsored by Rep. Tana Senn, D-Mercer Island, would reduce duplication in the background check system for child care employees who work in school district or educational school district settings. (Agency-request legislation)
Improving quality in early learning programs
  • House Bill 2377, sponsored by Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, and Senate Bill 6127, sponsored by Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Bellevue, would ramp up participation in Early Achievers, Washington's quality rating and improvement system, and would require child care programs serving state-subsidized children to join Early Achievers. The bills also instruct DEL to create a single set of regulations for early learning programs.
  • House Bill 2519, sponsored by Rep. Senn, and Senate Bill 6538, sponsored by Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, would direct family assessment response workers working with families involved in child welfare services to assess for child well-being and safety and refer families to high-quality early learning services.
Early learning system building efforts

Friday, January 10, 2014

What to watch for in the 2014 legislative session

The 2014 legislative session begins on Monday, Jan. 13. It is scheduled to last 60 days. Although this is a "short session," there will be plenty of focus on early learning. Some early learning issues to watch this session: 

  • Supporting high-quality early learning opportunities. Expect legislators to introduce several bills relating to expanding early learning opportunities. Many policy ideas will stem from the Child Care Improvements for the Future Task Force recommendations issued in December. Others are next steps from House Bill 1723 from the 2013 session, which laid out a vision for full-day, high-quality early learning opportunities. 
    • There will be measures relating to supporting continuity of child care by ensuring families get 12-month subsidy authorization with fewer exceptions. 
    • Also expected are measures aiming to strengthen Early Achievers as our state's measure of quality in all early learning programs, and looking at how we can help programs use different public funding sources to support high-quality, full-day programming for children.
  • Childhood obesity prevention. Gov. Jay Inslee has requested funding to support his Healthiest Next Generation initiative, which focuses on making sure state agencies are coordinating on policies and programs that support children and families in healthy development. The Department of Health will request a bill relating to this.
  • Child safety. Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Lake Forest Park, has dropped a bill that would require the Department of Early Learning (DEL) to conduct reviews on any child fatality in a licensed child care or state-funded preschool program. (House Bill 2165)
  • Background checks. DEL and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction are requesting legislation to streamline the background check process for child care employees who work in school district settings.
DEL has several presentations to legislative committees scheduled on topics including early intervention for infants and toddlers, home visiting, and parenting education. Find committee schedules on the Legislature's website at