Recently, First 5 Contra Costa awarded a total of $220,000 in financial stipends to child care providers who completed , a rigorous year-long professional development program designed to improve child care quality, especially for low-income children. Called CARES Plus, the program trains providers on teaching techniques (using the CLASS tool) that create an optimal learning environment for children.

A total of 171 child care providers received a stipend, which ranged from $800 to $1,800, for completing the program. Our participants currently work in child care, mostly with lower-income children. Many start their days at 7:00 a.m. and go until 6:00 p.m. Most have families of their own. And most don’t earn more than $35,000 a year for the critically important work they do preparing children for kindergarten.

Remarkably, all but four providers completed our year-long training, making Contra Costa’s retention among the highest in this statewide child care quality improvement effort.  Here’s how we did it:

Require college units, but provide support: To earn a stipend, we required providers without AA degrees to earn at least three college units in child development. But this requirement came with support.  All three Contra Costa community colleges provided academic advising, tutoring, textbook loans, and special provider-only classes.  As a result, one-third of our participants exceeded the three-unit requirement and earned between six and 18 units.  In fact, our participants earned a total of 556 units in early childhood education last year.

Require group support:  In addition to completing 20 hours of online training, our providers had to participate in 20 extra hours of group training and facilitation.  This helped participants to be successful in carrying out the online portion of training since many did not have the computer skills or access necessary to participate and helped to solidify new concepts by learning in a group setting.

Provide coaches:  We engaged 24 child care providers to serve as coaches for their peers in training along with the Community College Advisors and the Contra Costa Child Care Council Learning Institute.  These coaches facilitated small groups (above) and were available to provide one-on-one support to help participants understand their assessment results and set improvement goals.

Try new techniques:  We tested a new, intensive coaching program with 10 providers who learned about effective teaching practices by videotaping themselves in the classroom.  The providers then reviewed their videos and discussed their interactions with the children with their coaches.  The program was so well received that 100 providers will participate in it this year.

Engage individuals and programs:  In addition to working with individual providers, we also worked with 19 preschool centers to implement the training with their entire program.  When sites successfully completed the training, each received $1,300.  This approach reached more than 125 teachers and improved child care for over 1,000 children.

More information about the program can be found here.

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