Wisconsin’s Quality Rating & Improvement System (QRIS)

YoungStar is a program of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF) dedicated to improving the quality of care for young children in the state through a rating system. All ECE facilities in the state that serve children birth to five years can enroll in YoungStar.

YoungStar aims to:

  • Evaluates and rates the quality of care given by child care providers.
  • Helps parents choose the best child care for their kids.
  • Supports providers with tools and training to deliver high-quality early care.
  • Sets a consistent standard for child care quality.
YoungStar Standards

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services’ Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity Program, in collaboration with Wisconsin DCF and additional key stakeholders, spent many years laying the groundwork for the YoungStar program. Over time, the program earned overwhelming support from elected officials, ECE providers and ECE advocates.

All programs that receive child care subsidies are required to participate in YoungStar and receive a star rating. ECE facilities are awarded up to five stars based on points earned for creating safe environments and encouraging healthy behaviors based on four categories of standards:

  1. Education qualifications and training
  2. Learning environment and curriculum
  3. Professional and business practices
  4. Child health and well-being practices

These elements are evaluated on the basis of established, measurable standards. ECE facilities enrolled in YoungStar are evaluated annually and must display their stars in a window and post the YoungStar certificate on a wall.

In the child health and well-being practices category, YoungStar requires that all facilities rated three stars or higher earn one point for serving nutritious meals and snacks. To verify that nutritious meals and snacks are served, facilities must demonstrate that they participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), provide three months of menus for review by a nutrition professional or receive a score of five (Good) on the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS). Facilities can earn optional health and wellness points for providing at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day.

Trainings and Ongoing Support

The YoungStar program was implemented first with targeted training opportunities delivered to 12 counties, and through pilot projects administered in each region of the state before going statewide. This implementation approach allowed the DCF to gain additional support from stakeholders and fine-tune the program.

In the fall of 2010, more than 5,000 ECE providers received specialized training related to quality improvement in the ECE environment, professional practices, and/or child health and wellness in these counties. In November 2010, a contract was issued to the YoungStar Consortium, an organization made up of the Celebrate Children Foundation, the Supporting Families Together Association, and the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association, to administer YoungStar to ECE facilities in all six regions of the state (72 counties and 11 tribes).

Intensive launch training for the Technical Consultants and Rating Observers was held. The DCF developed policy criteria related to star-level quality indicators, created support materials and established baseline protocols that were required to be met in each region. In December 2010, ECE facilities began to enroll in the YoungStar program and receive ratings.

In March 2011, a year after the DCF submitted the plan to establish a QRIS, Secretary Eloise Anderson sent a final report on YoungStar to the Joint Finance Committee. After that, the YoungStar program was officially launched in the state.

Micro-grant funds are awarded to participating ECE facilities based on a self-assessment and a quality-improvement plan developed in consultation with a program Technical Consultant. To help implement and disseminate the YoungStar program, the DCF developed an online directory, allowing parents to search for YoungStar-rated providers.

Lessons Learned

  • Ensure opportunities exist for ECE provider and parents to offer input.
  • Create and support opportunities for ECE providers to access needed training and technical assistance.
  • Ensure credits are available for certifications, credentials and degrees.
  • Communicate frequently with the ECE workforce about quality indicators and make the indicators and related information accessible online (points detail, FAQ, minimum points, training calendar).
  • Ensure communications meet language and cultural needs of ECE providers.