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Early Childhood Initiative:
Strengthening families through quality rating & improvement systems

updated content (April 2009)

Strengthening Families Through QRIS

In mid-2006, the National Alliance of Children’s Trust and Prevention Funds began work through the Early Childhood Initiative in 18 states to embed the Strengthening Families Protective Factor (SF/PF) Framework into states’ early care and education systems. Directors and staff of states’ Children’s Trust Funds (CTFs) began traveling a more intentional pathway towards meaningful partnerships with their state’s early childhood systems partners. The Center for the Study of Social Policy had established the research base for the SF/PF Framework and in 2005 had engaged seven states in a two-year project to pilot the approach. The seven original state pilots concentrated primarily on implementing the approach directly in the field with early care and education programs. Through this initial work, it became apparent that state systems needed to embed the SF/PF Framework throughout the array of their early childhood systems (professional development systems, higher education systems, child welfare systems, child care licensing and quality improvement systems, etc.). Children’s Trust Funds were positioned to be a catalyst in this work as they readily learned more about the challenges faced by their early childhood systems partners and began, through the Early Childhood Initiative Learning Community, to explore ways in which the SF/PF Framework could support and enhance early childhood systems building efforts.

One of the primary areas where an obvious intersection between the early childhood field and the family support field began to cultivate intensive interest was in the matter of states’ Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS). Many states participating in the ECI/LC began to engage with early childhood partners as their state either drafted plans for a QRIS or began revisions of a QRIS already in implementation.


readIt is possible that the term QRS (Quality Rating System) is the more familiar term. In the last year, the ‘I’ has been added to create the term QRIS, the ‘I’ standing for Improvement. Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) are a way to “assess, improve and communicate about the level of quality in early care and education settings,” according to Anne Mitchell in her QRIS toolkit, Stair Steps to Quality. The addition of the ‘I’ has helped to shift the focus away from merely rating early care and education programs – to expanding the idea of quality to include continuous quality improvement. It also helps redefine the term “quality” to include such things as serving families in a culturally competent manner, including supports that will allow families, in partnership with early care and education professionals, to facilitate their child’s optimum development and school readiness.

Widespread QRIS Efforts

Eighteen (18) states currently have these systems in place and functioning: Colorado*, Delaware, District of Columbia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky*, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina*, Ohio, Oklahoma*, Pennsylvania*, Tennessee*, and Vermont (the six states designated with an * have been implementing QRIS long enough to have conducted an evaluation concerning QRIS effectiveness). Some of these states are in the process of making revisions to their earlier systems standards. In addition to the 18 states in current QRIS implementation, an additional 28 states are in some phase of QRIS development, and the number is increasing.

The Early Childhood Initiative and QRIS

As CTFs in the Early Childhood Initiative Learning Community engaged in meaningful work with their early childhood partners, the utilization of the SF/PF Framework to support certain components of states’ QRIS became a logical intersection. This led the National Alliance of Children’s Trust and Prevention Funds to include a focus on QRIS in the three-year plan for the next three years of the Early Childhood Initiative. At the same time, the A.L. Mailman Foundation provided the Alliance with additional funding to help stimulate this work among states. The A.L. Mailman project, Strengthening Families Through QRIS, has a timeline of one year (July 2008 – June 2009). The partnerships already established by the members of the Alliance’s Early Childhood Initiative Learning Community as they continue the work to deeply embed the Strengthening Families Protective Factor (SF/PF) Framework into QRIS exhibit a commitment to the challenge. The Alliance proposes the following objectives over the next year:

  • National Advisory Council. Convene a small National Advisory Council (NAC) of key leaders in the ECE field, the family strengthening/child abuse prevention field and the parent leadership movement to develop a process of “taking the pulse” of states as they seek to embed SF/PF Framework into QRIS.
  • Audit/ Reflective Thinking Tool. Develop and distribute to states a reflective thinking tool that will help to create a snapshot of what states are doing and have done thus far to embed the SF/PF Framework into QRIS.
    National Scan of Children's Trust and Prevention Funds on States' Quality Rating Improvement Systems (QRIS)
  • CTF Fact Sheet/ Learning Tool. Develop and distribute to state CTFs a Fact Sheet/ Learning Tool on QRIS, enabling them to be even stronger advocates for CAN prevention as they engage with ECE systems.
    CTF Fact Sheet/Learning Tool
  • Peer States. Facilitate a peer-states network between three states (Idaho, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee), in order to encourage meaningful sharing of effective strategies being developed along the QRIS continuum, allowing for more effective infusion of the SF/PF framework into QRIS.
  • Final Analyses. Produce a final document with the state results and analysis of findings. Create a composite picture that illustrates “What would it look like if the SF/PF Framework were effectively embedded into QRIS?” This picture will project concrete ways in which the effective CAN prevention strategies of the SF/PF Framework can support QRIS to promote high quality practices in early care and education settings; it will comprise a slate of recommendations from what states are already doing and project some innovative strategies that can be considered to meet the expanding needs of children and families.

States’ Children’s Trust Funds have not been traditional partners at the table while QRIS are being built and revised. If CTFs hope to engage meaningfully in this work, they must be familiar with the real challenges that their early childhood partners face as they draft and revise QRIS standards and build systems supports that will sustain their work. The ECI/LC convened a networking call on August 14, 2008 to begin the work of assisting CTFs in being well-informed partners in this work.