Early Childhood Quality Assessment and Program Evaluation Provides Meaningful Growth Opportunities
Early childhood professionals do some of the most challenging and essential work out there. For the majority, it is a labor of love, an answer to a higher calling to purposeful service that gives back to our communities. The long hours and complex nature of the job often mean that administrative tasks are low on the priority list. Record keeping is important but tough to prioritize when giving all your energy to supporting families in need. When you receive notice that your program is scheduled to be monitored, suddenly, it feels much more urgent, and the stress of the backlog can feel overwhelming.
There is no arguing that it can be uncomfortable to have someone from outside your organization, who may not know you or your work, checking to see if all your i’s are dotted and your t’s are crossed. Having your schedule interrupted can be frustrating. But it can also be an incredible opportunity—a chance to gather meaningful information about a program that highlights its successes and captures ideas for improvement.
One of the most valuable benefits of quality assessment and program evaluation is that it provides a structured roadmap for elevating both early childhood program quality and accountability. At the program level, monitoring is important for understanding whether the grantee is on the path to achieving its goals, revealing problems and inefficiencies, and determining effective solutions.
Another positive outcome of monitoring is the development of clearly articulated standards. This prevents bias and ensures consistency across grantees with different program models or demographics. It promotes equity by ensuring everyone receiving funds faces the same requirements. Monitoring supports universal best practices and puts the focus on continuous quality improvement. Information collected by assessors also informs leaders in the field, which can support critical changes at the state and even national levels.
Recently, the Vander Weele Group developed a quality evaluation tool for early childhood programs to showcase their successes and help grantees identify areas for improvement that go beyond basic compliance. The tool is designed to provide feedback based on research and current field standards. It informs grantees about their performance in areas such as: data collection and its use in measuring progress toward goals; resource distribution; strategic planning and its impact on service delivery; leadership quality and effectiveness, and hiring and training of qualified staff. When grantee programs excel in these areas, both program staff and families benefit. Building high-quality programs creates high-quality local systems and, ultimately, high-quality state systems.
At the Vander Weele Group, we take continuous quality improvement seriously, including our own. Our monitoring team collects information from grantees about our performance and the monitoring process. We continually improve our processes to reduce the burden of monitoring on the grantee, develop highly organized, practitioner-driven data collection methods, and maintain professional, well-trained staff experienced in the early childhood field.
While monitoring may never be anybody’s favorite process, I hope you will start to consider it a positive opportunity to create meaningful growth and think of your assessor as an advocate, teammate, and colleague as passionate about serving families as you are. In the end, that is the most important thing any of us can work towards, and it is why we are all here—doing our part to ensure that vulnerable members of our communities have everything they need to thrive.