Thursday, October 4, 2012

DEL taking action to address issues identified in child care subsidy audit

The Working Connections Child Care program helps low-income families pay for child care while they work, look for work, or participate in approved job training. The program helps up 30,000 families at any given time with an economic boost they need to find or maintain work.
Accountability and program integrity are one of the many areas the Department of Early Learning (DEL) has been focusing attention in the program. The child care subsidy system is an old and largely manual system. Several audits identified ways the subsidy system is not working as well as it should, and DEL has addressed many issues in accountability. For context, DEL is responsible for child care subsidy policy and oversight; the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) is responsible for families’ eligibility to receive subsidized child care and payments to child care providers.
Thanks to the funding from the state Legislature, we are working on developing an electronic subsidy system that will replace the old paper and manual entry system. This will be a crucial step in tightening controls over the $280 million in subsidy payments we make each year.
Despite some cases of reported fraud in the child care community, which have been turned over to DSHS for investigation and/or prosecution, families who are eligible for services are receiving care and, as of now, the program has room to serve more families.
DEL initiated its own child care subsidy audit team to review random, targeted, and complaint-based subsidy payment records from both licensed and license-exempt child care providers. We assembled the audit team to improve accountability over child care providers’ billing practices. The team is responsible for documenting and writing overpayments for collection where errors in billing occur; the team refers potential fraud cases that are identified to DSHS’ Fraud and Accountability at the Department of Social and Health Services for investigation.
Based upon the DEL audit team’s results, DEL has asked OFM for permission to add an additional five auditors to the team, using existing federal funding.

Any amount of waste or abuse is too much. DEL has been actively working with DSHS on recovering overpayments. DEL has also modified or added to child care subsidy rules:
  • Responsibilities for child care providers who are paid for providing subsidized care.
  • The provision that providers may not receive benefits for child care subsidies at the same time as they are themselves are paid for providing care.
  • A requirement that providers maintain the last year of attendance records to be immediately available upon request on site.
  • Not allowing payments to providers who bill for more children than they are allowed to care for (called overcapacity). 
These are just a few areas where DEL and DSHS have been focusing attention to improve performance and promote responsible practices by people who work in or use the child care subsidy system.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Child care providers have better access to education, more clear career path

Today, DEL and the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges announced a project to improve child care providers’ access to continuing education and a clearer path to an early childhood education (ECE) credential.

DEL and the higher education system have been working for several months on building “stackable certificates” that allow early learning professionals to work their way toward a statewide ECE credential, which equals a one-year certificate. We are calling it a statewide credential because all participating colleges will use the same curriculum, course descriptions and course numbers. Three certificates, earned sequentially, will result in the one-year credential.

This fall, there are three participating community colleges: Olympic, Pierce and Yakima Valley. Starting this winter quarter, four more colleges will participate: Highline, Clark, Lower Columbia and Bates Technical. By Fall 2013, all state community and technical colleges will be able to offer this curriculum. That means that any ECE student who studies at a participating college will be able to transfer to another participating college and have their credits and progress toward a certificate or credential seamlessly transfer.

Participating colleges also will offer Early Achievers Opportunity Grants, which are set aside for early learning professionals who work at a child care facility that participates in Early Achievers, Washington’s quality rating and improvement system, and who qualify as a low-income student. The grants help pay for tuition, books and other resources, including tutoring. Students apply for the grants through a participating community college.

We are using funding from the Race to the Top-Early Challenge grant that our state won in December 2011 to pay for the Early Achievers Opportunity Grants because they are directly aligned with the federal government’s goal for this funding: to build a strong, cohesive and consistent professional development system, respond to communities’ unique needs and provide valuable instruction to early learning professionals. In the end, child care professionals, families and children all win in our race to improve the quality of early learning in Washington.