Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Washington State: Audit, Department Of Early Learning

by Andrew Hart September 7th, 2010

SUMMARY: The Washington state legislature’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) recently audited the state Department of Early Learning (DEL) which is responsible for supporting access to safe, healthy, and quality early childhood development throughout Washington State. The department regulates settings where children receive care, works with partners to improve child care and early learning services, and works with other agencies on the state’s child care subsidy program. DEL was formed in 1996 after the consolidation of three state programs: The Working Connections Child Care Program, from the Department of Social Health Services; The Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), from the Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development; and the Early Reading Initiative, from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Upon DEL’s creation in 2006, the legislature also called for an audit of the DEL (JLARC). The audit found that a series of improvements were needed in the areas of integration of programs, management controls and monitoring of licensed child care facilities and ECEAP sites, and great variance in the availability of subsidized child care.

KEY LINK: Washington State Department of Early Learning Review, 6/16/10, Washington State Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee

KEY FINDINGS:

  • Overall, the audit found that “the DEL has complied with legislative requirements,” but there are several respects in which improvements are needed.
  • Management of DEL programs remains segmented and the health and safety standards for licensed childcare and Early Childhood Education Assistance Program (ECEAP) have not been integrated.
  • JLARC found the childcare facility assessment standards to be ambiguous and unclear. The language and criteria of the standards should be refined.
  • After consolidating the three previous programs into DEL, administrative expenditures jumped from $1.8 million in fiscal year (FY) 2006 to $8.5 million in FY 2009.
  • In order to keep their licenses to operate, the more than 7,600 childcare facilities regulated by the DEL must comply with an array of health and safety standards. For the facilities sampled, JLARC found that full compliance was low both before the creation of DEL (2005) and after (2008): 9 percent before DEL, 13 percent after DEL. On average, facilities met 14 of the 17 standards.
  • DEL monitors a child care center at least once a year without consideration of a facility’s previous compliance with standards. JLARC recommends that DEL could more efficiently monitor facilities by focusing on low-compliance licensees.
  • To help facilities meet compliance standards, DEL contracts for technical assistance and training. But there is no policy to determine how aid is administered. JLARC recommends implementing a policy that disperses assistance as needed.
  • The assessment of health and safety at child care facilities conducted by JLARC is the only statewide data of its kind. DEL should regularly conduct assessments of compliance at childcare facilities.
  • When child care facilities receive subsidies from the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), the facility must keep and submit child attendance records to verify the subsidies. JLARC found that 18 percent of facilities kept inadequate records, and recommends a policy that calls for DSHS to be notified whenever a facility is noncompliant.
  • “The review found that childcare co-payments are affordable for 90 percent of Washington families receiving childcare subsidies.

On June 28, 2010, DEL Director Bette Hyde issued a response to the JLARC review. The DEL either concurred or partially concurred with the recommendations made by JLARC. The DEL provides goes on to provide details of actions taken to meet the JLARC recommendations: standardizing data collection with new technology, committing to examine the cost and benefits of differential monitoring, regular communication and meetings regarding child care resources and referral efforts, and agreeing to form a policy for notifying DSHS of child care facility non-compliances.

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