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: