Tuesday, February 28, 2017

DEL Proposes New Rules: Safe Sleep, Environment and More!

DEL Rules Update | February 2017

DEL Files Proposed Rules

In January 2017, DEL circulated working drafts of safe sleep and environmental hazard rules to licensed child care providers who would be affected by the rules.  We received valuable feedback and made revisions to the draft rules.  Thank you to all who commented on the drafts!
Proposed rules have been filed with the Code Reviser and DEL is accepting comment on the proposals through March 23, 2017.  The proposed rule subjects are:
  1. Safe Sleep: Updating rule to current health and safety standards that child care centers and family home child care providers must follow to protect sleeping infants and toddlers who are in their care.  Read the proposal
  2. Lead and Other Environmental Hazards: To comply with Governor Inslee's directive to reduce children's exposure to lead and other environmental hazards, DEL proposes environmental safety requirements for child care centers and family home child care providers, including testing drinking water to detect hazardous levels of lead and copper, evaluating facilities for paint and soil hazards, and ensuring outdoor gardens are safe for children who play in them.  Read the proposal and small business economic impact statement.
  3. Child Care Subsidy Wait List:  Forecasts for Washington State's Working Connections and Seasonal Child Care subsidy programs indicate that consumer needs will likely exceed available funding in the next two years.  Wait lists will be created if that happens and the proposed rules clarify how DEL will administer the lists, including prioritization, when benefits start for a consumer who is taken off the list, withdrawal from and reinstatement to the list, and provider payment terms.  Read the proposal.
A 10:00 AM hearing is scheduled on March 23, 2017 to receive public comment on the proposals.  Hearing location:
Cascade Conference Room 130
1110 Jefferson Street [DEL State Office], Olympia, Washington

March 23 is the last day that comments will be accepted.  Attend the hearing or submit comments in writing by one of the following methods:

  1. Online: DEL Rules Comment webpage. Click “Add Comment” to give your input, or “View Comments” to read what others have said.
  2. Email the DEL Rules Coordinator
  3. Mail comments to Rules Coordinator, DEL, P O Box 40970, Olympia, WA  98504-0970.
Only input received at the hearing or written comments received on or before March 23 as noted above will become part of the official record.  DEL will respond to all comments submitted and provide a combined response to all who comment on a particular proposal.  The combined responses will also be posted on the DEL website and provided to anyone upon request. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Early Achievers Celebrates Parent Recognition Month

Early Achievers Pagers
New Early Achievers pages!
National Parent Recognition Month honors parents for the important roles they play in their homes and communities across the nation. Parent leaders may be a parent, grandparent, foster parent or any other care provider in a parenting role who share their perspective to effect change.

The Department of Early Learning (DEL) celebrates the contributions parents and families make to our society on a daily basis and recognizes that all parents have the potential to be great leaders. We are excited to announce a new online resource for parents and families to learn more about quality early learning in Washington through Early Achievers. Visit www.del.wa.gov/earlyachieversfamilies to learn more about:
  • The importance of quality child care and early learning
  • Early Achievers and how it is improving the quality of care in Washington
  • Finding quality early learning and care in your community
  • Additional resources and supports for families
The new pages also feature an expanded translated materials page for providers and all pages can be translated into multiple languages via the Google translate button at the top of each page.

For those who are interested in becoming leaders at the state level, the Early Achievers Review Subcommittee is currently accepting applications for members. This is a great opportunity to become involved in Early Achievers and its work to improve the quality of care for all children in Washington.

For more information, please visit: www.del.wa.gov/earlyachievers.

Early Achievers Logo

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Update on Licensing, Health, and Safety at DEL


To the Early Learning Community,

The Department of Early Learning, which I have the honor to direct, regulates thousands of small businesses that provide childcare to 180,000 children in Washington every year. You hear a lot about “regulations crushing small businesses” and “regulations being critical to ensure safety.” Finding a balance between adequate safety and supporting childcare providers is important to getting the best outcomes for kids. 
  • We do fingerprint-based background checks on anyone who has unsupervised access to children, about 50,000 of these a year. This ensures that sex predators and people with a history of abusing or neglecting their own children don’t get to work in the industry. 
  • We make sure childcare facilities have fire safety checks, have safe playgrounds, have enough square footage to provide enough room for kids to move around, don’t have dangerous cords hanging down from window blinds, don’t have cleaning products or weapons accessible to children, etc. 
  • We make sure there are enough adults in the classroom to ensure safety. There are national standards for this kind of thing and we work hard to follow them. 
  • We ensure that facilities follow practices like safe sleep, food prep safety, good diapering practice to avoid fecal coliform infections, etc. 
  • We ensure minimum provider education levels because outcomes are much better for kids when they have a provider with a stronger educational background. 
  • We follow federally-required annual inspection schedules and incident follow-up deadlines.

Our goal is to prevent injuries and fatalities. Despite our best efforts some will occur, but many fewer than if we didn’t have rules providers have to follow.

In addition, we have a voluntary system (“Early Achievers”) that measures the quality of childcare. For taxpayer-subsidized kids we require at least a level 3 on our 5 point scale because it’s better for kids and we think taxpayers have a right to insist that they only pay for high-quality care. We pay more for higher quality care and instruction because it costs more. It’s worth it because we get better outcomes. Read more about Early Achievers here.

Like any regulator, we get complaints from the businesses that we regulate. They complain that our regulations cost too much to comply with, that our enforcement is biased against them because they are X, Y, or Z, or that we are inconsistent in our enforcement. Providers that have more than one location served by different licensors often have evidence that this is so, with different problems treated differently by different licensors. 

I try to approach problems like this analytically, so I asked for a systematic review of discipline practices across the state in my first few months. It turns out the businesses are right – we have different practices in different places, and often between different licensors inside the same office.  This isn’t OK, but it is a challenge to fix.  We have to have the regulation, but we also have to enforce it the right way. To improve the consistency and appropriateness of our licensing effort we’re doing the following: 
  1. Clarify the rules. Our rules should be readable by providers who have a high school education, our minimum educational requirement. We are in the middle of a complete re-write of what was a complex, multi-part document that had been written in pieces over decades. We’re aiming to be consistent across different types of facility – family child care homes, centers, and our state-run preschool program called ECEAP.
  2. Set clear expectations about consequences for violations. Safe sleep violations put vulnerable infants at risk of crib death. Keeping your paperwork in order so you don’t waste the licensor’s time checking everyone’s CPR training status is important, but perhaps not as much as safe sleep. We’re “weighting” the rules so our licensors and the small businesses we regulate can see how seriously violations of different rules will be treated.
  3. Training our staff. We’re planning to engage in a continuous review process on the new rules. Licensors will gather in groups to work through responses to common (and uncommon) situations that often get different responses and ensure that we’re all treating things the same way. We’ll document these cases to use as training for new licensors, and make them available to providers to see actual examples.

This isn’t an overnight project. The rules revision alone has already taken most of a year and we expect another 6-10 months of feedback, analysis and work to finalize the changes. It’s hard enough to change rules that we want to get it right. This is called the “Alignment” project, and you can read about it here.

We’re in the middle of the “weighting” process now, and are using a somewhat complicated but evidence-based approach to this to ensure that lots of stakeholders have input into the weights. Read about the weighting process here. 

Part of ensuring consistency of application of these rules is having an appeals process that makes sense. Our current process is just to have the supervisor of the original licensor review the decision. This doesn’t result in a lot of corrected actions and also doesn’t help build consistent practice. We’re moving to a new system where appeals go to a rotating group of experienced licensors who get to look at appeals monthly, without identifying information. This eliminates any implicit bias we may have about a provider and gets a single interpretation across the whole agency of the issue that’s come up. Our new process should roll out this spring. 

In addition to the formal steps we’re taking, we are investing in upgrading our software infrastructure so that licensors can track their observations on regular monitoring visits. Our new system is based on Salesforce.com and works in the cloud.  We expect it to be easier to manage as well as being a useful tool to see how peers react to concerns a particular licensor may have. 

Building a regulatory system that is too extreme can result in significant compliance costs for providers. There needs to be some rules (not having enough adults in the building is cheaper, but very, very dangerous) but having too many onerous rules can push providers out of the licensed world. Sometimes it’s hard for parents to tell the difference, but it matters. We shut down an unlicensed facility in 2016 when we discovered there were way too many infants for one provider to manage and a person living in the household who was a level one sex predator with a gun collection. You might not be able to see this from the outside, but you don’t want your kid there. 

Finding the right balance is tricky, and we depend on public input to make the determination. It’s like taxes. It always feels to a taxpayer that their taxes are too high, but the societal costs of having an inadequate education system that the taxes pay for are much more severe. The safety and outcome implications of getting the balance of childcare regulation wrong are pretty severe as well, and it’s worth being thoughtful about how we approach it. 

We’ll keep updating and engaging with you over the next year as the projects I mentioned above move forward.


Ross Hunter
Director, Washington State Department of Early Learning

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

DEL's Racial Equity Initiative: Closing the Gap

Race matters. During my time in the legislature I saw how government policies can dis-proportionally impact people of color. The way agencies make decisions and implement programs can have profound effects on the people they are trying to serve. Why does this matter for an agency like the Department of Early Learning? Because Washington is becoming increasingly diverse - 44 percent of the estimated 446,000 children under 5 years of age are from racial and ethnic backgrounds that are either American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Black, Hispanic/Latino, multiracial, or Pacific Islander. Children of color are the fastest growing subgroup of all children under 5, and currently make up 60 percent of children under 5 years of age living in the lowest-income households.[1]
Race/Ethnicity of WA Young Children Under 5
by Household Income, 2015

While children of color currently account for 46% of the kindergarten population, they only make up 38.6% of the children who enter kindergarten ready for what lies ahead.[2] And we know that the opportunity gap doesn’t shrink in a child’s K-12 career.[3] When I put forth a goal for DEL to get 90% of kids ready for kindergarten by 2020, I very intentionally included in that goal that race and family income should no longer be predictors of readiness. With that in mind, I established a Racial Equity Initiative at the agency.

WA Opportunity & Achievement Gaps by Race/Ethnicity,
2015-16 School Year
Our focus for 2017 is to lay a strong foundation for ongoing efforts. This is not a quick fix with instant gratification. Making systemic change takes time and stamina. While I expect some short term results from my team, I am fully on board with a long-term commitment and strategy developed and implemented in partnership with families, communities of color and key partners.

Here’s what our plan looks like:

A. Develop and implement a comprehensive racial equity strategy. This strategy includes: 
  • A racial equity framework or shared approach to leading for equity. This framework will include a vision for the early learning system, principles, and a shared understanding of the historical and current context, language/definitions, and key concepts. 
  • A racial equity plan with specific goals, data, benchmarks, and priorities that lead to the greatest impact on closing opportunity gaps and removing barriers for children, families, and professionals of color. This plan will build on the Racial Equity Theory of Change for Early Learning. It will include both internal and external-facing strategies for DEL programs, policies, and practices with clear actions and accountability mechanisms. 
B. Develop and continually refine tools and processes (making time to gather input and consider impacts at planning and decision points) necessary to implement the racial equity strategy, including: 
  • Tailored racial equity impact analysis tools for program, policy, grant application, initiatives, and budget development. 
  • An agency-wide family, community, and stakeholder engagement protocol to ensure policies and decisions are meaningfully informed and influenced by those most impacted and marginalized. 
  • Disaggregated data and metrics to track results and measure the impact of DEL’s actions at the child/family/community level and outcomes at the program/agency level. 
C. Train and support DEL staff to increase their knowledge, awareness, and capacity to lead for equity
  • The first step is to convene and support a Racial Equity Team that will provide leadership in developing the racial equity strategy, tools, training, and processes. Team members will model culturally and linguistically responsive practices. They will play a critical role in setting the conditions and environment necessary to engage others in racial equity conversations and efforts.
Though DEL is at the forefront of many things, we are definitely not the first to undertake something like this. The City of Seattle, King County, the Puget Sound ESD, and a number of other governmental institutions have been implementing racial equity programs for several years. Lawmakers and bureaucrats are slowly coming to the realization that we cannot effect the change we’re seeking without making change internally and with the guidance and leadership of communities.

I’ll be personally participating in training sessions and will be guided in my decision making by the Racial Equity Team and its manager, Evette Jasper. As a white man from Microsoft and the Legislature, I’m doing my best to lead DEL as an ally to all of our providers, families, and children. My goal is to leverage the amazing opportunities we have to close the persistent and pernicious opportunity gap. I hope you join me in this critical and exciting work.

Thank you,

Ross Hunter
Director, Washington State Department of Early Learning

Read my statement on DEL’s support for inclusion and tolerance.

Want to learn more about the initiative and our progress at DEL in eliminating race as a predictor of kindergarten readiness? Visit this page.

[1] American Community Survey PUMS 2015 1-year data
[2] WaKIDS 6/6 readiness rates and kindergarten enrollment
[3] WaKIDS percent 6/6 and English Language Arts SBA percent met standard

Monday, February 13, 2017

WA Celebrates 30 Years of Comprehensive Pre-K

Taken at Tacoma Day ECEAP site
in Tacoma, WA.
The Washington State Department of Early Learning (DEL) celebrated 30 years of serving Washington children and families with the state's exemplary Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), the state's version of Head Start.

The program estimates serving approximately a quarter of a million children since it's start 30 years ago. Since then, the program has expanded and continues to grow with support and success. 

More about ECEAP

ECEAP provides early learning preschool or home-based services to support children’s development and learning that includes:
  • Family support and parent involvement.
  • Child health coordination and nutrition.
  • Services responsive and appropriate to each child's and family's heritage and experience.

ECEAP models include:
  • Part Day classes are 2 ½ or more hours, several days a week, during the school year.
  • Full School Day classes are 5.5-6.5 hours per day, 4 or 5 days a week, during the school year.
  • Extended Day is available at least 10 hours a day, year round, combining child care and ECEAP. Parents must meet work or training requirements.
For more information about eligibility and enrollment, go here: www.del.wa.gov/ECEAP

How DEL Celebrated

Senator Andy Billig address his
community about ECEAP in Spokane.
DEL hosted two events, one in Spokane on October 4 and at the Hands On Children's Museum in Olympia on February 9. Both events welcomes guest speakers including Senator Andy Billig (in Spokane) and Representative Ruth Kagi (in Olympia), as well as real ECEAP teachers.

The event in Spokane welcomed over 100 guests from the ECEAP community and was featured state-wide in one of DEL's first ever Facebook Live posts.

ECEAP kids shared their wishes for the
future on star center pieces.
In Olympia, former ECEAP teacher, Sophia Rychener shared stories of the many children and families she has helped in Thurston County, and guests from Child Care Aware of Washington and the Washington Association of Head Start and ECEAP came to show support. 

"While we can see that few children start their Pre-K year in ECEAP with kindergarten entry skills," said Ross Hunter, DEL Director, "at the end of one year of ECEAP, the percentage of kids with kindergarten entry skills is higher, and with even more ECEAP, the outcomes are even greater."
Representative Ruth Kagi and DEL Director Ross Hunter
have fun at the Hands On Children's Museum in Olympia.
For more information about outcomes for kids in ECEAP, go here: ECEAP Outcomes Report.
If you own an early learning program that is interested in becoming an ECEAP site, go here: ECEAP Letters of Interest.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

WA Continues to Support Diversity, Inclusiveness in Early Ed


Hello Partners in Early Learning,

Following the Governor’s recent remarks on President Donald Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration, the Washington State Department of Early Learning (DEL) would like to reinforce our state’s commitment to supporting diversity and inclusion, not only for the general population, but within Washington’s team of high-quality early educators, early intervention service providers and our state’s smallest learners.

I want to make clear what our responsibilities as an agency entail – ensuring the health and safety of children and supporting high-quality early learning and intervention services. At DEL we work to help children in Washington prepare for success in school and life. We help families build resilience and ensure they have high-quality choices for the care of their children, no matter their race, religion, or place of birth. For nearly all of our programs, we do not collect data on immigration status or religious affiliation of the children and their parents, and we will not begin doing so. 

We are committed to supporting providers who offer high-quality and culturally relevant care, who reflect the communities they serve, and who have a deep degree of understanding and empathy for the challenges faced by many of our children and families.
Taken at Tacoma Day ECEAP site in Tacoma, WA.
Washington is becoming increasingly diverse, with 44 percent of the estimated 446,000 children under 5 years of age from racial and ethnic backgrounds that are either American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Black, Hispanic/Latino, multiracial, or Pacific Islander. These kids are the fastest growing subgroup of children under 5. Our state has a long legacy of inclusiveness and tolerance, and it’s our responsibility to keep it alive. The diversity of Washington families is crucial to our success and future. 

DEL will absolutely not discriminate or enact policy that discriminates based on nationality, race, or religion. As always, I welcome your feedback on this, and I encourage you to join me in supporting the potential of every child.


Ross Hunter
Director, Washington State Department of Early Learning

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Becoming ECEAP: WA Seeks Pre-K Declarations of Interest

The Department of Early Learning (DEL) seeks to collect information from early learning settings that may want to provide Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) services. 

The surveys linked below are open to public and private organizations, including school districts, educational service districts, community and technical colleges, local governments, nonprofit organizations, child care centers, and family child care homes. This survey is the first step in completing the 2017 application for ECEAP slots. It serves as your letter of interest for that application, but does not obligate you to apply.

Please complete a survey by February 24 if you are interested in either:
  • Becoming an ECEAP contractor and providing the full infrastructure necessary to meet all ECEAP contractual requirements, including the ECEAP Performance Standards.
  • Providing a classroom experience for ECEAP children, under the direction of an ECEAP contractor.
Taken at Tacoma Day ECEAP site in Tacoma, WA.
The introduction to the survey contains important information, including information to learn more about ECEAP.  

Please select one:

If you have questions, please email eceap@del.wa.gov