Software seeks to streamline piles of paperwork that child care providers manage

(WSAW) – Most child care providers become early childhood educators for the love of children, not to run a business that operates on thin margins and minimal pay. While some have the business brains, others need more support from the child care administration.

“I think the complexity comes from the amount of different administrative practices a person is juggling at the same time,” said Paula Drew, co-director of the Wisconsin Early Early Education Shared Services Network (WEESSN).

There are many things licensed providers need to track in their centers: such as required training due dates, child immunization records, required notification to parents regarding when their child’s immunizations are due. , parent contact information, child development records, incident reports, billing and receipt, and specialized tax forms for those taking advantage of certain tax deductions.

For group daycares, there are several staff members who need this follow-up training and there are generally more children and parents as well.

“The day-to-day is that this person is currently working in a classroom, cooking the food, driving the bus,” said Drew, who has worked in group centers before.

For family centers, there are fewer people to follow, but there are often more things that one person does on their own.

“They sometimes still have paper records, which means every month they literally fill in to see who needs that vaccination, who needs that health form? Check their own record to make sure they have their continuing education. they need, and they’re the only person,” said Kelly Matthews, Drew’s co-director who has previous experience at a family center.

Until last summer, Matthews said all of that tracking and documentation submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families had to be done on paper. All of this tracking and documentation prompted the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association, a nonprofit early childhood education advocacy group and professional association dedicated to helping these teachers, to create WEESSN in 2019. Drew and Matthews have worked with software developer Early Learning Ventures, DCF and Child Care Licensing Agents to streamline this paperwork process.

“They were able to complete all of the required license registration forms and ensure that they met all licensing requirements,” Matthews said.

The DCF-equivalent agency in Colorado had developed similar software, and Matthews and Drew said vendors using it had excellent results and experiences. NewsChannel 7 contacted this agency but did not hear back.

The program, called Alliance Core, allows centers to ask parents to register through the parent web portal. WEESSN co-directors say the system is helping to keep more suppliers compliant with national regulations.

“They can’t submit it if it’s missing something,” Matthews explained. “So in the past, a parent could hand over a piece of paper, the many pieces of paper, that they might need to hand over to enroll their children, and there might be a little checkbox that they don’t had no “X” or a place where they did not put their initials or signature and this could result in non-compliance.

WEESSN also worked with a credit card processing provider to reduce costs for providers and allow them to accept online payments from parents.

“We strongly believe that if providers accept online payments, parents will more often pay on time and for the full amount,” Drew said. “It’s often a challenge. And when you only accept cash or maybe cash and checks, if somebody’s on a fixed income and they’re out of money at the end of the week and you’re the person he pays cash, you’re probably the one who isn’t going to be paid in full.

They recognize that all providers, especially those in Family Centers, may not be comfortable with computers in general. Drew said they were happy to connect these vendors to a laptop and walk these people through basic computer functions in hopes of building skills and simplifying their workload.

“Our goal is to get people using software because we just think automation is going to save you time because things are a click of a button instead of an hour to review files,” he said. she continued.

They said they really want WEESSN programs to work for providers and are very responsive to feedback. They also make sure to share their feedback with DCF, where appropriate. This is how WEESSN was able to help change the physical paperwork requirements for Family Centers.

“I think actually one of the beauties of our program is that we don’t offer licenses, we’re not accredited,” Drew said. “Our people are really geared towards meeting a supplier where they really are and helping them achieve their individual goals.”

Since WEESSN’s inception, the program has been funded to enable the service to be primarily free to providers. It now has full funding through June 30, 2024. Their hope is that they can diversify their program’s revenue streams so they can continue to help providers pay for WEESSN services.

The program operates in a tiered structure in which providers can enroll according to their wishes and support needs. The first level is largely made up of information sharing services. The second tier includes everything from the first tier plus more hands-on services, as well as access to the WECA conference which can help providers verify their training needs. The third level is the most robust and includes the other two levels of service, plus what they call a “relief squad”, which are substitute teachers for the programs. Suppliers can register for free at the level that best suits their needs.

The Rescue Team is something several vendors have mentioned would be helpful, but it’s not available in north-central Wisconsin. Matthews said replacements are located in communities that have worked with WEESSN to be able to respond to centers in those communities. She explained that if a community is interested, she contacts them and WEESSN can do a feasibility study to see if this would be something that vendors in that community would be interested in using. The relief team requires the supplier to pay the replacement $10 per hour.

Matthews and Drew travel to communities where they are invited to have these types of community conversations. 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 runs from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. and will take place in the TB Scott Free Library. The event will consist of conversations about challenges facing child care in Lincoln County and explore options to increase options for quality child care providers.

The event will also be the first reunion of the Lincoln County team that won the DCF’s Dream Up! grant opportunity, which provides funding to communities to plan the search for local solutions. The NCWWDB also has a grant that it makes available to those interested in starting a regulated family center in its service area (Adams, Wood, Portage, Marathon, Lincoln, Langlade, Forest, Vilas, and Oneida counties) including he will argue. It specifically focuses on Adams, Lincoln, Langlade, Forest, and Vilas counties, whose NCWWDB states have three or fewer Certified Family Centers (not including licensed centers). Currently, 18 participants are registered and the grant hopes to obtain at least 45 participants.

Grow North was also a team that received a Dream Up! grant to find regional solutions to childcare problems. Its first working group event to start discussing ideas will be on August 26.

Copyright 2022 WSAW. All rights reserved.

Ryan H. Bowman