Posted November 28, 2007

Child care more desirable when rated by a government evaluation system, Temple University study shows

Ratings system also increases parents’ willingness to pay more for quality care


A government system that evaluates and rates the quality of child care providers — such as Pennsylvania’s Keystone STARS — can be a valuable tool in assisting low-income families in selecting desirable care for their children, according to a study by Temple University.

The study, “Racial and Ethnic Difference in Welfare Leavers’ Child Care Preferences: a Factorial Survey Analysis,” was conducted by Temple’s Family and Children’s Policy Collaborative.

“We have serious problems in this country with the quality of child care; a lot of child care is very mediocre,” said Anne B. Shlay, professor of sociology and a collaborator with Temple Psychology Professor and Chair Marsha Weinraub at FCPC. “People are constantly putting their children in care situations that are less than adequate. The people who are most at risk doing this are low-income people, and they are the ones most in need of quality care situations to get their children properly prepared for school.

“The study that we did looks at how people who had come off of public assistance evaluated different child care situations,” she said. “One of the things that we found when we looked at what makes these parents desire a certain child care situation was whether or not it is rated higher or lower with a star system, such as Pennsylvania’s Keystone STARS.”

Keystone STARS, administered by Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare, is a quality rating and improvement system for early learning programs. Child care and Head Start programs may earn a STAR 1 through STAR 4 rating by meeting research-based performance standards for areas such as staff qualifications and development, early-learning environment, and management practices. STARS programs may also receive professional development, technical assistance and targeted financial supports to help them move up the quality ladder.

“Essentially, the government has simplified child care quality down to a star rating system with which people can identify and comprehend,” said Michelle Harmon, project coordinator for Personality and Social Development Research Laboratory in Temple’s Psychology Department and a collaborator on the study.

“What Pennsylvania is doing is considered to really be cutting-edge stuff compared to most other states in terms of using the government as a tool for improving the quality of child care,” added Shlay. “Essentially, the government is evaluating the quality of care for parents in an unprecedented way by saying we are going to do the observations and evaluations of these child care providers, we are going to communicate to the general public about how good the care is, and then the public can make their decisions based on the ratings system.”

Shlay said the researchers didn’t go into this study with the Keystone STARS as one of their main focuses, but were “really shocked” to discover that it was such an important indicator for the respondents.

“The STARS rating system came out to be one of the most important characteristics of child care to which parents actually paid attention,” she said. “They are paying attention to it much more so than when the word ‘accreditation’ is used.”

And, the researchers discovered, not only did parents desire higher quality child care, they were willing to pay more for it if is rated by a government system like STARS.

“The question has always been, ‘Is the public willing to pay more for quality child care,’ and the answer is yes, even public-assistance recipients, when based on the STARS rating system, which effectively communicated important information to them,” noted Shlay. “The fact that parents saw that this ratings-style system actually communicated effective child care quality is an important public policy finding.”

“These families are at such a delicate stage when they first come off Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, we need to make sure that they have access to quality child care opportunities,” said Estelle Richman, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare. “This is where programs like Keystone STARS can have a tremendous impact, by helping these families return to work while providing our young children with quality early learning opportunities. I’m pleased that our vulnerable families value Keystone STARS and know how to use the STAR rating system to make solid child care choices.”

The report was prepared by the Family and Children’s Policy Collaborative at Temple University for the William Penn Foundation and the Claneil Foundation. The full report is available at


SOURCE CONTACT: Anne B. Shlay, 215/204-7931 or Michelle Harmon, 215/204-3772

NEWS MEDIA CONTACT: Preston M. Moretz in Temple University’s Office of News Communications, 215/204-4380 or