PROVIDENCE, RI — On May 16, more than 50 baby strollers thundered their way from the Providence Omni Hotel up to the State House where more children and their parents were waiting to participate in Early Childhood Advocacy Day. The day brought together parents, care givers, teachers, public health professionals and others from Rhode Island organizations to bring attention to the issues facing children. The message for this year’s program was to reinforce the importance of affordable, high-quality child care for infants and toddlers, and to highlight the shortfall of the current tiered-reimbursement rates for child care in Rhode Island.
Team members from Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Rhode Island participated in the event to underscore the importance of early child care facilities, as well as to identify the influence facilities can have on a child’s growth and development. LISC Rhode Island houses the Rhode Island Child Care Facilities Fund (RICCFF), a public-private partnership with a mission to expand access to quality child care and early education for low-income communities. RICCFF provides grant funding, technical assistance, resources and training to support early child care facilities.
“Our state is looking at improving our facilities for K-12, which is desperately needed, but they shouldn’t forget our youngest learners. Infrastructure problems for early child care must also be addressed,” said Cindy Larson, Deputy Director of LISC Rhode Island and long-time early child care advocate. “The rate of brain development is highest from infancy to about age 5. It’s most important to ensure they are in high quality environments to nurture that growth.”
The RICCFF has invested more than $21 million to develop and improve child care facilities statewide. That investment has helped to facilitate an additional $28 million in investments for improvements, but Larson says so much more needs to be done.
“We are pleased to support Governor Raimondo’s proposal that would establish a tiered-rate structure for the child care assistance reimbursement program for infants and toddlers,” said Larson. “It is an important step.”
The tiered system would provide a higher reimbursement rate per child to centers with higher ratings from the state’s Quality Rating System. The measure will provide some financial incentive for centers to seek and maintain higher ratings, and represents the first time since 2005 that there has been a change to the reimbursement rate for low-income children, which currently lies at only 13% of the national average.
“In our work with centers, we have observed first-hand the detrimental impact that stagnant child care reimbursement rates have had across the state,” says Larson. “Current child care budgets are hindering the growth of access to high quality care, and this budget amendment offers an essential down payment on a system that moves toward compensating quality programs for our youngest and most vulnerable children.”
RICCFF provides technical assistance to more than 200 organizations seeking to develop new centers, expand programming, and implement quality improvements to physical space. In 2014, the LISC team conducted a Facilities Needs Assessment which documented the financial challenges facing early learning programs in Rhode Island. The report highlighted the limitations of a crumbling system. At that time, more than 50% of centers reported that there are aspects of their facilities that prohibit them from moving up the established “quality ladder” in Rhode Island.
“Well-designed space is absolutely essential to offering quality care that ensures children are safe, healthy, and engaged during their time in child care,” said Larson. “However, space is expensive and – absent a dedicated funding stream or budgets that truly support facility costs – improvements are often neglected.
“The condition of many buildings which house some of our state’s most vulnerable children for large quantities of time has simply become unacceptable.”