Extension helps the state train child care professionals

One of the challenges in providing child care is having enough qualified people to staff centers and home operations. Since 2017, ISU Extension and Outreach has helped licensed and registered child care providers complete required training.

"In 2017, the federal government mandated that all child care providers have pre-service training before they can begin working with children," said Lesia Oesterreich, extension early childhood programs state specialist. "[The training] focuses on health and safety issues and brought consistency to those areas."

Working with the state departments of Human Services and Public Health, extension developed training centered on child care and early childhood education. The result is thousands of Iowans becoming certified and able to work. In the fiscal year that ended last June, extension issued more than 86,000 training certificates to early childhood education professionals across the state, down slightly from previous years because of the pandemic, Oesterreich said.

Training and professional development

Extension offers required training and professional development programs. Most of the certificates were issued in the two mandatory programs:

  • 68,000 certificates: Essentials Child Care, 12 hours divided into 12 modules, ranging from "Safety in Your Child Care Environment" to "Managing Food Allergies." Participants must score 80% on a quiz for each module to receive their certificate.
  • 15,000 certificates: Universal Precautions focuses on infectious disease control and health basics such as proper hand washing, something reinforced worldwide since the start of the pandemic.

Three other programs that help child care providers and improve settings for children saw significant interest:

  • 1,200 certificates: Passport to Early Childhood Education, a 15-hour program launched during the pandemic and designed as a workforce entry program. The program demonstrates and explains the "how" and "why" behind quality care and teaching. Oesterreich said this training is intended to prevent turnover and stabilize the workforce by giving providers confidence in their work.
  • 1,000 certificates: Iowa Early Learning Standards focuses on developmentally appropriate activities and lesson plans.
  • 500 certificates: Environment Rating Scale Training helps providers self-assess the quality of their child care program and create a program improvement plan. They then have the option to request a formal outside assessment of their program that can lead to a 1-5 quality rating score, much like hotels and restaurants use. This rating helps market their child care program to families and can help them earn financial bonuses from the state.

Extension's remaining programs are designed as professional development for providers who live or work in the state. Oesterreich said extension issued about 1,000 certificates in this area, and professionals from as far away as Texas take part in training that may not be offered where they live. Nearly all training is free through funding partners.

Online shift

Oesterreich said extension has conducted child care training for at least 45 years, but recently made it available 24/7 statewide and self-paced. Prior to an online option, new hires sometimes waited months and drove long distances to attend in-person training.

The online training was invaluable during the pandemic with professionals able to earn their certification without having to put themselves or others at risk.

The programs are structured through numerous video lessons -- similar to YouTube -- that allow participants to learn by seeing best practices being put to use.

"New staff are able to watch and rewatch them to really see good models of practice," Oesterreich said. "These are young children, so it really helps to learn how to talk to and teach them."

Participants receive a certificate after completing training, and results are recorded in the state's I-PoWeR workforce registry. When child care teachers and home providers complete training, ISU sends that information to the registry, acting as a system of checks and balances, Oesterreich said.