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Karen Nugent helps children color at Ship's Ahoy Children's Academy Friday morning. (Michelle Higginbotham / Special to the American Press)

Karen Nugent helps children color at Ship's Ahoy Children's Academy Friday morning. (Michelle Higginbotham / Special to the American Press)

State program helping improve quality of child care services

Last Modified: Friday, August 30, 2013 6:35 PM

By Warren Arceneaux / American Press

The state of Louisiana is helping improve the quality of child care services in the state with the Quality Start initiative, a voluntary program that promotes quality child care, rates child care centers and provides tax credits to providers and parents.

To earn the credits, service providers earn from one to five stars based on requirements such as staff qualifications, administration practices, family and community involvement and ratio of staff members to children.

Louisiana was the first state to implement such a tax credit program.

Two Calcasieu Parish centers, Ships Ahoy in Lake Charles and Angel Babies in Iowa, have earned four stars, the highest in the parish. Cameron Parish Head Start/Community Action Agency has also earned four stars.

Ships Ahoy owner and director Stephanie Smith said her facility has been involved in the program since its launch in 2008. The facility has been open for 12 years and is licensed to provide care of up to 101 children.

“We were in the first group in Louisiana to receive the first star,” Smith said.

“It has educated my teachers on how to provide developmentally appropriate programs in each of our classrooms. It has helped us provide materials and training for our teachers. The biggest benefit is that it improve the quality of care that our children receive through education, through staff qualifications. There are so many aspects you have to improve to become a four star center. You have to improve your rooms, your social and emotional interaction with the children.”

Ships Ahoy received its fourth star last year.

“A number of things that were entailed (in earning the fourth star),” she said.

“First and foremost, we had to have staff qualifications reach a certain level. Our staff have to meet certain education standards. We are working hard to maintain that fourth star and working towards our fifth star every day by improving the quality of our care and increasing our education in the teachers.”

Smith said she wishes more parents were aware of the program.

“I don’t think a lot of parents are aware of it,” she said.

“It is important to educate parents on what Quality Start is, how it helps them financially and their children, how placing their children in a quality center ultimately helps their child’s future and education. The four stars show the quality of care their child receives is quantified by the education of my teachers and the program that we run. Studies have shown that children introduced to a quality center at a young age do better in school.”

Smith said the program motivates teachers to receive more education and training.

“On a person level, as far as my employees, they receive financial benefits,” she said.

“As they are educated, they get tax credits back for working in this industry. It allows me to recruit better teaches and provides incentive for them to further their education.”

Parents can benefit from their children’s center receiving a higher rating. The School Readiness Tax Credit allows parents with children who are under the age of 6 and are enrolled in a child care center that has earned at least 2 stars in Louisiana’s Quality Start program to receive an increase to the state’s child care tax credit. Increases range from 50% from two star centers to 200% for five star centers.

For more information on the program, visit The site includes a map that shows which child care centers participate in the program, the current ratings for each center, details on how the ratings are earned and information on how parents can benefit for the program.

Star Ratings System

1 star - This means that the center has met the higher standards of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services Child Care Licensing and Regulatory Section.

2 stars - A two-star rating is given when the center has received additional specialized training.

3 to 5 stars - The three to five star rating indicates the center provides quality child care based on staff qualifications and the Environment Rating Scales (ERS).

Choosing A Child Care Center

Tips on choosing a child care center, from the Quality Start web site,

Is there adequate supervision?

Is there a high teacher-to-pupil ratio?

Do you observe a lot of one-on-one attention?

Are there adults trained in emergency first aid and infant/toddler CPR?

Are there specific areas for different types of play?

Are the toys interactive and stimulating to the senses?

Are the children read to at least twice a day?

Are work and play surfaces kept clean?

Does center have a detailed plan to follow in an emergency?

Are first aid kits readily accessible?

Are cleaning supplies out of reach?

Is staff subject to criminal history background checks and fingerprinting?

Is outdoor play equipment well maintained?

Does the center have formal written job descriptions?

Does the center conduct regular parent/staff evaluations?

Did you feel welcome on you visit?

Is the center Quality Start rated?

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