Software program looks to streamline the piles of paperwork child care providers manage
(WSAW) - Most child care providers become early childhood educators for the love of kids, not to run a business that operates on slim margins and minimal compensation. While some have the business brain, others need more support from the administration side of child care.
”I think the complexity comes with the amount of different administrative practices that one person is juggling at the same time,” Paula Drew, a co-director of the Wisconsin Early Early Education Shared Services Network (WEESSN) said.
There is a lot that licensed providers need to keep track of at their centers: like required training due dates, immunization records for kids, the required notification to the parents about when their child’s immunizations are due, parental contact information, child development records, incident reports, billing and receiving, and specialized tax forms for those that take advantage of certain tax deductions.
For child care group centers, there are several staff members that require that training tracking and there usually are more children and parents too.
“The day-to-day is that that person is likely right now working in a classroom, cooking the food, driving the bus,” Drew, who has prior experience working in group centers, listed.
For family centers, there are fewer people to keep track of, but there are often more things one person is doing themselves.
“They sometimes still have paper files, so that means every month they are literally filing through to see who needs that immunization, who needs that health form? Checking their own file to make sure they have their continuing ed. that they need, and they are the only person,” Kelly Matthews, Drew’s co-director who has prior family center-based experience explained.
Until last summer, Matthews said all of that tracking and documentation that is submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families had to be done on paper. All of this tracking and documentation pushed the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association, a nonprofit early childhood education advocacy group and professional association meant to help those teachers, to create WEESSN in 2019. Drew and Matthews worked with software developer Early Learning Ventures, DCF, and child care licensing agents to streamline that paperwork process.
”They were able to basically take all of the required licensing enrollment forms and ensure that they met every single licensing requirement,” Matthews stated.
The equivalent agency to DCF in Colorado had a similar software developed and Matthews and Drew said the providers that used it had great results and experiences. NewsChannel 7 reached out to that agency but did not hear back.
The program, called Alliance Core, allows centers to have parents sign up through the parent web portal. The WEESSN co-directors say the system helps to keep more providers in compliance with state regulations.
“They cannot submit it if anything is missing,” Matthews explained. “So in the past, a parent could turn in a piece of paper, the many pieces of paper, that they might need to turn in to enroll their children, and there could be one little tick box that they didn’t “X” or one place they didn’t put initials or signature and that could lead to a non-compliance.”
WEESSN has also worked with a credit card processing vendor to reduce the cost for providers and allow them to accept online payments from parents.
”We firmly believe that if providers accept online payments, parents will pay more often on time and for the full amount,” Drew said. “That’s often a challenge. And when you only accept cash or maybe cash and check, if somebody has a fixed income and they’re out of money at the end of the week and you are the person that they pay in cash, you’re likely the one that’s not going to get paid in full.”
They recognize that not every provider, especially those in family centers, may not be comfortable with computers generally. Drew said they are happy to connect those providers with a laptop and walk those individuals through basic computer functions with the hope to build up skills and simplify their workload.
”Our goal is to have people using software because we just believe that automation is going to save you time because things are a click of a button versus an hour reviewing files,” she continued.
They said they really want the WEESSN programs to work for providers and are very responsive to feedback. They also make sure to share feedback with DCF where appropriate. It was how WEESSN was able to help change the physical paperwork requirement for family centers.
“I think actually one of the beauties of our program is that we’re not licensing, we’re not accreditation,” Drew stated. “Our staff is really meant to meet a provider where they truly are and to help them reach their individual goals.”
Since WEESSN was established, the program has been funded to allow the service to be mostly free for providers. It now has full funding through June 30, 2024. Their hope is to be able to diversify their program’s revenue streams to be able to continue to help providers pay for the WEESSN services.
The program operates in a tiered structure that providers can sign up for depending on their wants and needs for support. The first tier largely is information sharing services. The second tier includes everything from the first tier along with more hands-on services, plus access to the WECA conference which can help providers check off their training requirements. The third tier is the most robust and includes the other two tiers of service, plus what they call a “Relief Squad” which are substitute teachers for programs. Providers are able to sign up for whichever tier best suits their needs for free.
The Relief Squad is something several providers have mentioned would be helpful, but it is not available in north central Wisconsin. Matthews said substitutes are situated in communities that have worked with WEESSN to be able to respond to centers in those communities. She explained if a community is interested, they reach out to them and WEESSN can do a feasibility study to see if it would be something providers in that community would be interested in using. The Relief Squad does require the provider to pay the substitute $10 an hour.
Matthews and Drew travel to communities they are invited to have these types of conversations with communities. Matthews will be in Merrill on July 30 for the North Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board’s child care conversation with the Lincoln County community. The event goes from 12 p.m. - 1 p.m. and will take place in the T.B. Scott Free Library. The event will consist of conversations about the challenges facing child care in Lincoln County and explore options to increase quality child care provider options.
The event will also be the first meeting of the Lincoln County team that won DCF’s Dream Up! grant opportunity, which provides funding for communities to plan to find local solutions. The NCWWDB also has a grant it is making available to people interested in starting a regulated family center in its service area (Adams, Wood, Portage, Marathon, Lincoln, Langlade, Forest, Vilas, and Oneida counties) that it will discuss. It is focusing especially on Adams, Lincoln, Langlade, Forest, and Vilas counties which NCWWDB states have three or fewer certified family centers (not including licensed centers). Currently, there are 18 participants enrolled and the grant is hoping to get at least 45 participants.
Grow North also was a team that received a Dream Up! grant to come up with regional solutions to child care issues. Its first task force event to begin discussing ideas will take place Aug. 26.
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