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If you have a concern about something going on in a child care facility or you suspect child abuse, neglect or exploitation at a child care facility, please use the drop-down menu on the Tell Us How We Are Doing page to fill out the appropriate complaint form.

Frequently Asked Questions for Parents

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YoungStar is a 5 Star quality rating and improvement system for child care and school-age programs.

A program's rating is based on:

  • The provider's education
  • The learning environment and curriculum
  • The business and professional practices
  • The health and well-being of children.

Question Topics

Overview of the YoungStar Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS)

What is quality in an early childhood setting, and why does quality matter?

There is variety of research that defines quality in early childhood settings and tells us that quality matters a great deal. Here is just one excerpt from this research, but you can find many others:

Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education (2013) by Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Christina Weiland, et al. (Executive Summary - Society for Research in Child Development)

Excerpted from pp. 14-15:

Evidence across decades of evaluation research now permit us to say with confidence that preschool programs can have a substantial impact on early learning and development. Positive effects on children’s development are found for language, literacy and early math skills; for social and emotional outcomes; and in children’s health.... [P]reschool education benefits children from middle-income as well as low-income families (although children from low-income children benefit more). The most recent research also makes clear that there are positive effects for dual language learner children as well as for those whose home language is English, and for children with special needs as well as for typically developing children....

Children who have attended preschool go on to show positive effects on important adolescent and young adult outcomes, such as high school graduation, reduced teen pregnancy, years of education completed, earnings, and reduced crime....

The evidence continues to grow that the foundation for positive effects on children are interactions with teachers that combine stimulation and support. Such interactions build children’s higher-order thinking skills as well as knowledge of specific content (such as early math and language skills), and at the same time are warm, responsive and elicit reciprocal interactions....

Finally, while it has been clear for some time that high-quality preschool education yields more in benefits to society than its initial costs, the most recent work indicates that there is a positive return on investment for a range of differing preschool programs, from those that are more intensive and costly to those that require less initial investment. In sum, quality preschool education is an investment in our future.

What is a Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) and what does it do?

A QRIS is a method to assess, rate, and improve the level of quality in early and school-age care programs. It is also used to communicate the level of child care quality to parents and families choosing child care providers and locations.

YoungStar is a QRIS that includes four key parts:

  • Training and technical assistance for child care providers
  • Observation and rating of child care programs
  • YoungStar adjustments based on the star rating
  • Communication to families about the star rating system

YoungStar supports child care providers who want to improve the quality of their care by creating financial incentives to deliver better services to children, and by giving parents meaningful information about the importance of selecting high-quality child care for their children.

What areas of a program are rated?

The standards that a child care program must meet in order to earn a specific star rating have been researched and linked to quality.  These standards include:

  • The Providers Training and Educational Qualifications
  • The Program's Learning Environment & Curriculum
  • The Program's Business and Professional Practices
  • The Child's Health and Well-Being

YoungStar has established specific requirements in each of the four areas listed above to ensure that programs have a balanced approach to quality and are making improvements in all areas of their programming.

Informing Families

How can families learn about YoungStar?

DCF works closely with partners to publish YoungStar ratings through a variety of outlets so families can easily access information about the availability of high quality early care and education in their community. The YoungStar Child Care Finder provides parents with detailed information about YoungStar ratings as well as compliance records for licensing and certification.

In order to support both children and families, DCF has created partnerships with various agencies and programs to ensure that families are equipped with concrete, objective information regarding quality child care. Some of these partners are:

What is posted about child care programs on the DCF child care search website, and how does this help families select child care?

All regulated child care programs are listed on the Child Care Finder website regardless of their participation in YoungStar. YoungStar participating programs will have additional information available, such as their star rating and special program features.

Families that select a YoungStar participating program will also benefit from knowing their child attends a program that has been rated on specific quality criteria that is proven by research to indicate higher-quality programming and better outcomes for children.

Information about the health and safety of the child care program is also provided through Child Care Finder. Child care certifiers and licensors visit each provider periodically and monitor for compliance of health and safety rules, such as the ratio of children to teachers and the safety of the environment. After each visit, that information is added to Child Care Finder. If a parent has a question about a licensing or certification violation that is listed for a particular program, they can contact the DCF Regional Office in their area.

Tips for Choosing Child Care brochure was developed by DCF to help families make the important decision of locating child care arrangements that are right for their child and family. 

DCF encourages families to talk with the child care programs they are considering. Families may contact the local Child Care Resource and Referral Agency in their area for additional help and information: Call Toll-Free: 1 (888) 713-5437

Do child care programs have to participate in YoungStar?

YoungStar is a voluntary program that focuses on providing training and technical assistance to programs in order to help them improve their overall quality.

As part of participating in YoungStar, programs must agree to accept children from families that utilize Wisconsin Shares.

Programs that currently accept Wisconsin Shares Child Care Subsidy payments from families must participate in YoungStar. 

What is Wisconsin Shares, and how is it related to YoungStar?

Wisconsin Shares Child Care Subsidy Program assists eligible families with the cost of child care.

To promote quality in child care, Wisconsin includes a YoungStar quality adjustment for 4 and 5 Star rated child care providers who have current Wisconsin Shares authorizations:

  • 5 Stars = A separate YoungStar quality adjustment, for up to 30% of current Wisconsin Shares authorization amounts, will be made directly to the selected child care program.
  • 4 Stars = A separate YoungStar quality adjustment, for up to 15% of current Wisconsin Shares authorization amounts, will be made directly to the selected child care program.

Additionally, Wisconsin Shares subsidy amounts are impacted by the child care providers star rating in the following manner:

  • 3, 4 or 5 Star Providers - Programs will receive Wisconsin Shares payments directly from parents utilizing the MyWIChildCare EBT card. Each parent's subsidy amount will be calculated by first taking the county maximum or the provider's price (whichever is lower), and then the parent's copayment will be subtracted from the total. Finally, that amount will be loaded onto the card
  • 2 Star Provider - Programs will receive Wisconsin Shares payments directly from parents utilizing the MyWIChildCare EBT card. The authorized Wisconsin Shares subsidy amount will be reduced by 1% before being placed on the card
  • 1 Star Provider - Families are not eligible for Wisconsin Shares subsidy amounts if they attend a 1 Star rated program. These providers' child care licenses or certifications have been revoked, denied or suspended, or their Wisconsin Shares payments have been ended due to fraud or suspected fraud.

In order to receive Wisconsin Shares payments from families, child care programs must be in regulatory compliance and must participate in and be rated by YoungStar.

YoungStar Quality Indicators

How important is a provider’s education?

Research indicates that providers with higher levels of education tend to provide higher quality care than providers with lower levels of education.

Other states with quality rating and improvement systems confirm that education is linked to higher quality early care and education settings, which lead to improved outcomes for children. In Wisconsin, YoungStar celebrates the educational achievements of child care providers by including an Educational Qualifications category in our rating system.

What aspects of the learning environment and curriculum are considered by YoungStar?

YoungStar looks at whether a program has performed a self-assessment and has a quality improvement plan in place. YoungStar also considers whether providers have been trained on standards/frameworks for learning (e.g., Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards or School-Age Curricular Framework) and whether the program’s curriculum has been aligned with these standards. 

As a tool to aid in rating the quality of a program, YoungStar raters will use an Environment Rating Scale.  These scales help raters examine the following areas: space and furnishings, personal care routines, health and safety, activities, interactions, program structure, and provisions for parents and staff.

What aspects of children’s health and well-being are considered by YoungStar?

Above and beyond the health and safety requirements of regulated child care, YoungStar looks at whether a program serves nutritious meals and snacks and provides adequate physical activity. YoungStar also considers whether providers have training in social-emotional development, inclusion of children with special needs, and factors that protect children and families from abuse, neglect, and stress.

How important is family engagement/involvement/leadership?

YoungStar recognizes the importance of family engagement in its Business and Professional Practices quality indicators.

Are there any requirements for staff training in how best to serve children with disabilities or with physical, developmental, or social and emotional special needs?

Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies can help refer parents to child care, school-age programs, and day camps appropriate for their children with disabilities or other special needs: Call Toll-Free: 1 (888) 713-5437

YoungStar has created an Early Childhood Inclusion webpage dedicated to providing inclusion-focused information and resources to help support both parents and providers.

Regulatory Compliance

What is regulated child care?

If a child care is "regulated," it means that it is either:

  • Certified by the County/Tribe or DCF in Milwaukee,
  • Licensed by the State, or
  • Operated by a public school board.

Note: To be reimbursed with Wisconsin Shares funds, providers must be regulated.

Licensed Child Care

Under Wisconsin law, no person may provide care and supervision for four or more children under the age of 7 for less than 24 hours a day unless that person obtains a license from DCF to operate a child care program. This requirement does not include a child’s relative or guardian who provides care and supervision for the child; a person employed to come to the home of the child's parent or guardian for less than 24 hours a day; a county, city, village, town, school district, or library that provides programs primarily intended for recreational or social purposes; or a public or parochial school. However, programs operated by private or parochial schools must be licensed in order to receive payments from the Wisconsin Shares Subsidy Program.

For more information, visit the DCF Licensing and Regulation webpage.

Certified Child Care

There is a voluntary form of regulation in Wisconsin for child care programs that are not required to be licensed. This type of regulation is called certification. Counties/Tribes certify child care homes and some school-age child care programs.  Families who utilize Wisconsin Shares can choose to attend licensed or certified child care.

For more information, visit the DCF Child Care Certification webpage.

Quality Child Care

YoungStar goes beyond licensing and certification regulations and helps parents choose child care on the basis of quality.

Choosing child care may seem an overwhelming task, especially if you are new to child care services. To search for safe, quality child care in Wisconsin, please visit the Child Care Finder webpage.

If there is a complaint regarding a regulated child care program, where should it be directed?

Anyone can report a complaint to DCF concerning a licensed or unlicensed center. When DCF is alerted to potential violations of administrative rule, licensing staff conduct a thorough investigation. If the complaint is substantiated, the violations are documented and the center is expected to take prompt corrective action.

Complaints concerning certified child care programs shall be made to the local certifying agency.

Types of YoungStar Programs

Are school-age and day camp programs included in YoungStar?

YoungStar includes:

  • Licensed Group or Family Child Care programs serving school-age children
  • Certified school-age programs
  • Regulated short-term operational programs enrolling children for 14 consecutive weeks or fewer (e.g. summer-only day camps)
Do 4K programs participate in YoungStar?

When providing 4K programming, Wisconsin public school districts choose between two options:

  • Working entirely within the public school system to provide 4K, or
  • Working with community partners (including child care programs) to provide 4K. This option is the 4K Community Approach (4KCA).

In a 4KCA program, the child care portion of the program may participate in YoungStar if at least one (1) hour of child care service is provided per day, outside of the public-school-supported 4K portion of the day. If the 4KCA child care program accepts Wisconsin Shares Subsidy payments, it must participate in YoungStar.

During the 2017-2018 school-year:

  • 98% of Wisconsin's children reside in a district offering 4K
  • More than half of those children reside in districts using a 4K Community Approach (4KCA)
    • 404 public schools offer 4K to 48,905 students
  • However, less than half of the school districts use the 4K Community Approach when providing 4K services
    • When school districts utilize 4KCA, they may deliver services using several community partners

Updated 4KCA data can be found on the YoungStar Narrative Report.

Do Head Start programs participate in YoungStar?

Head Start may be available through several approved program options, including center-based, licensed family child care homes, and home-based options. Descriptions of these models are available on the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and Office of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center (ECLKC) website.

Head Start and Early Head Start programs are included in YoungStar. The specifics of YoungStar participation varies according to the number of hours of child care provided by the site and paid for by Wisconsin Shares.

How do accredited programs earn YoungStar ratings?

Accredited programs are awarded ratings of 4 or 5 Stars, based on the type of accreditation the program holds (and, in some cases, the educational qualifications of the staff). The accreditation process takes the place of the YoungStar rating process.

YoungStar Accreditation Policy

YoungStar staff communicate regularly with staff in these accrediting bodies and are satisfied that their accreditation criteria and monitoring practices are rigorous. Currently, accepted accreditation bodies require programs to submit annual self-studies and have established unannounced on-site visits. Accreditation is accepted as an alternate pathway to 4 or 5 Stars based on the intensive practices that are necessary to earn accreditation.