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Child development centers strive to meet revised national accreditation standards

SAN ANTONIO (AFNS) -- Air Force services leaders implemented a five-year plan to gradually phase Air Force child development centers through the new, re-accreditation system and assist them in meeting the strict accreditation requirements and 64 CDCs have already met the new standards.

The five-year plan was in response to the 2006 announcement from the National Association for the Education of Young Children as they made sweeping changes to the standards, included 412 criteria with which to evaluate programs in including curriculum, assessment, health, relationship and leadership and management.

"The National Association for the Education of Young Children has sponsored a national accreditation system since 1985, designed to establish professional standards for early childhood education programs and to help families identify high-quality programs," said Candace Bird, the child and youth programs deputy chief for Headquarters Manpower, Personnel and Services.

The Air Force plan developed at the Air Staff including training, consultant visits, process standardization, and Air Force-wide solution development to provide consistency in programs. 

"Additionally, the phases allowed for more individualized support to bases and provided bases in subsequent phases the opportunity to take advantage of lessons learned by bases in earlier phases," Ms. Bird added. 

There are four steps a child development program must complete in the new accreditation process: application, self-study, candidacy and the on-site visit.

"We have approximately 60 additional Air Force programs in one of the various accreditation steps or stages," Ms. Bird said. She also noted that a single Air Force base may have multiple child development programs, depending on the number of children served and number of faculty members required by the NAEYC.

At Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Janna Keller, the CDC and Family Child Care director, initially faced some challenges bringing the Ramstein AB programs in line with the new accreditation standards, but now feels the changes have brought great improvements to the care and family interaction in their overseas child development programs.

"Familiarizing ourselves and the classroom teachers with a little over 400 new criteria for the NAEYC accreditation was our greatest challenge," Ms. Keller said. She also added that being overseas, the CDCs encounter constant staff turnover because family members comprise a large majority of the work force and those who are hired stay only as long as their sponsor's assignment allows. 

"This adds additional challenges because we were always training new staff on quality child care and NAEYC criteria," she said.

However, the new NAEYC criteria allowed the Ramstein AB CDC to better share the program's story and to become better communicators with the parents enrolled in the program, Ms. Keller added.

"We have built community relationships that were not present in the past," she said, "and the parents that took on an active role through evaluating our policies and procedures, being advocates for our program, and giving us suggestions for improvements have become stronger leaders within the programs. It has made us a closer CDC community."

Ms. Keller also said the Air Force greatly helped by providing initial training and preparation for the new NAEYC accreditation standards. 

"Programs were allowed the time they needed to adequately prepare. By connecting bases through small group training, resources and ideas were shared. I believe this has attributed to the Air Force's successful accreditation rates," she said.

"Historically, Air Force child development programs have led the other services with the highest number of accredited CDCs -- 99 percent -- attaining this hallmark of quality," Ms. Bird said.

For information about Air Force child development centers, visit the Air Force services child development programs Web site at http://public.afsv.net/FMP/ChildProgramsDotCom/CDC.htm.



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