"Evidence shows that children who have attended child-care centers that are very involved in Smart Start activities are more prepared for kindergarten," said lead researcher Dr. Donna Bryant, a senior scientist at the institute.
The report, scheduled for release Thursday (June 6), is a compilation of recent Smart Start studies by the UNC center FPG, and is done under contract to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Child Development.
Three waves of data collection in 1994,1996 and 1999 at hundreds of child-care centers showed significant improvement in the quality of child care over time, Bryant said. "Compared to 1994, almost twice as many classrooms in 1999 were rated as providing 'good' to 'excellent' care. Centers participating in more Smart Start quality improvement activities were likely to have higher scores."
Another sign of quality improvement is that the number of N.C. centers that are nationally accredited rose from 28 in 1992 to 170 in 2000.
A 2001 study showed that the new 5-star state rating system for child-care centers was significantly related to both observed quality and several other indicators of program quality. "Parents and policy makers should be assured that centers with higher star ratings are indeed providing high quality care for young children," Bryant said.
The number of children receiving immunizations and developmental screenings also has increased substantially since 1996, according to the report. A recent study of more than 2,000 children showed that those who had participated in any type of Smart Start health intervention were "significantly more likely to have a regular source of health care and to have had DPT and polio vaccines than children who had not participated in Smart Start," Bryant said.
Smart Start is helping meet the needs of families by helping centers and family child-care homes serve more children, including adding spaces for special age groups, and helping subsidize the cost of child care in licensed centers and family child-care homes, she said. The number of new Smart Start-funded child care spaces rose from about 1,300 in 1996 to almost 9,000 in 2001.
"Smart Start is more than the sum of its parts," Bryant said. "A recent study showed how central the individual partnerships have become in their local service systems. The more central they became, the more improved was the service system. Gaps in services were reduced, duplication of services was reduced and providers were more aware of other resources that could be offered to families. The local Smart Start partnership was perceived to have played a key role in these improvements."
The 2002 Annual Evaluation Report for Smart Start as well as other FPG studies involving Smart Start is online at www.fpg.unc.edu/smartstart. The official Smart Start web site is www.smartstart-nc.org.