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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.

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Youngstar FAQs for Providers

The following Frequently Asked Questions are intended to answer a providers general questions about YoungStar. 

We encourage all programs, whether already participating or just interested in learning more, to reach out to their local YoungStar office for answers to more in-depth questions about YoungStar.

General Information

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

A Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) has two main components: First, it is an organized way of assessing, rating, and improving the level of quality in early care and school-age programs. Second, it is a system for communicating level of child care quality to parents and families looking for care.  A QRIS defines indicators of quality and provides a framework of accountability for child care programs. Child care providers are given support and technical assistance, including mentoring and coaching, to help them increase and sustain their quality efforts.

YoungStar, Wisconsin's QRIS, focuses on four key components:

  • Training and technical assistance
  • Child care ratings and observations
  • Quality adjustments based on a programs star rating
  • Communication with parents regarding the rating system and the importance of quality early education

So, what do child care providers say are the benefits to participating in YoungStar?

  • It's a comprehensive, evidence-based structure for quality improvement
  • Technical Consultants and YoungStar staff are supportive and encouraging
  • It provides a way to talk with staff, families, and community members about the importance of early care and the quality improvement process
  • It provides financial support
  • It affirms the quality of my child care program and the pride I take in my work
  • It improves the outcomes of the children in my program
Who can participate in YoungStar and is there a cost?

YoungStar is a voluntary and free program that focuses on providing training and technical assistance to programs in order to help them improve their overall quality. Any Wisconsin child care program that is in regulatory compliance* can participate in YoungStar. For those programs that accept Wisconsin Shares Child Care Subsidy payments from families, participation in YoungStar is mandatory.

*Regulatory compliance is different depending on whether the provider is licensed, certified, or exempt.  For more information visit the Child Care Regulation webpage.

What is regulated child care?

“Regulated” refers to a child care that is either:

  • Certified by the County/Tribe or Milwaukee Early Care Administration (MECA),
  • Licensed by the State, or
  • Operated by a public school board.

Note: For a program to receive Wisconsin Shares funds, they must be regulated.

Find more information on DCF Child Care Licensing.

Find more information on DCF Child Care Certification.

Exempt Programs: Public and private schools that operate early childhood programs are exempt from licensing. These programs are regulated by public school boards and are required to meet the state child care licensing standards, even though they are not required to be officially licensed. Care that is provided in the child's own home by a family member is also exempt.

Note: Programs operated by private or parochial schools must be licensed in order to receive payments from the Wisconsin Shares Subsidy Program.

How is regulation different than YoungStar?

Regulation is a set of state rules that are in place to protect a child's health and safety. Under Wisconsin law, no person may provide care or supervision for 4 or more children under the age of 7 for less than 24 hours a day unless that person obtains a license to operate a child care center.

YoungStar is a program that builds upon licensing rules by focusing on improving the quality of care provided by Wisconsin child care programs. YoungStar is a voluntary program, whereas in order to operate a child care program, a program must follow the set rules necessary to earn a child care license. 

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 receive Wisconsin Shares payments from families, providers must participate in YoungStar.

How does YoungStar work?

Step 1: Apply to YoungStar. Providers who want to participate in YoungStar can do so by filling out a YoungStar Contract. To download a YoungStar contract, as well as find more information on participating in YoungStar, visit the YoungStar Contracts page.

Step 2: Local YoungStar Offices Process the Application. When the local YoungStar office receives the Contract, they will reach out to the provider to let them know that their forms have been received and to answer any additional questions the provider may have.

Step 3: Technical Assistance is Provided. If a provider requests technical assistance as part of their application, then staff from the local YoungStar office will contact the provider within four (4) weeks of receiving the completed application to set up the first visit. A Technical Consultant will will work with the program to identify opportunities for quality improvement and assist with creating a plan for how they will use their time together. Once consultation has been completed, the program can move on to the rating process.

Step 4: Provider Is Rated. Ratings will happen in one of two ways:

  1. Technical Rating - For a technical rating, the programs consultant will observe and verify information from the YoungStar Evaluation/Rating Criteria. A technical rating is generated based on the information entered, along with the provider’s verified education and training information. The consultant then reviews the rating results with the provider and the Department of Children and Families (DCF) will post the rating on the YoungStar website.


  2. Formal Rating with Observation - For a formal rating, the programs consultant will observe and verify information from the YoungStar Evaluation/Rating Criteria, just as they would for a technical rating. The difference between a technical and formal rating is that for a formal rating an Environment Rating Scale (ERS) observer will visit the program to complete the required ERS observations. The ERS Observer and Technical Consultant will then review the rating results with the provider, and DCF will post the Formal Rating on the the YoungStar website.

Visit our Environment Rating Scales page to learn more about ERS tools.

What is Technical Assistance and who provides that service?

Technical Assistance is the direct and indirect services that your YoungStar consultant (or Technical Consultant) will provide. These services are of no cost to programs that participate in YoungStar. Technical Assistance can come in many forms, from the direct services your consultant provides to assist your program staff with learning and practicing new skills to the assistance they provide to help you locate training or resources to improve the quality of your program practices.

To learn more about the benefits of participating in YoungStar, visit the Why Apply to YoungStar page.

What areas does YoungStar look at when rating a program?

The YoungStar rating criteria is made up of research-based indicators of quality that are grouped into 4 important areas of care:

  1. The provider's education and training
  2. The program's learning environment and curriculum
  3. The program's professional and business practices
  4. 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.

To learn more about the YoungStar evaluation/rating criteria please visit the YoungStar Rating Criteria page.

What is a Program Profile and who's responsibility is it to make sure its accurate?

A Program Profile collects and displays the current makeup/information (e.g., staff, policies, classrooms, benefits, etc.) of each child care program. The Wisconsin Registry is our state's system for recognizing the education and training of the early education workforce, collects and reports the information contained within the program profile. Programs that want to earn a star rating higher than 2 Stars must participate in the Wisconsin Registry, as well as create and maintain an accurate program profile. See Our PDF guide on updating your Registry Program Profile for more detailed information.

How do the changes in the educational qualifications of my staff affect my YoungStar rating?

YoungStar ratings take into account each staff members level of education at the time of the rating. YoungStar encourages and supports programs and teachers to continue taking classes and trainings, knowing this additional knowledge and experience will not only impact the quality of the teacher, but also of the program as a whole. It is for this reason that a programs YoungStar rating is connected to an increase in the educational qualifications of its staff. Visit the YoungStar Rating Criteria webpage for additional information.

What opportunities are available if I'm interested in continuing my education?

YoungStar collaborates with institutions of higher learning to make it as convenient as possible to take credit-based coursework. Wisconsin’s institutions of higher education (IHEs) want to support your success and have created innovative methods of coursework delivery to support the early care and education workforce, including evening, accelerated, hybrid, and on-line classes, in addition to credit for prior learning opportunities and community-based delivery of coursework.

To learn more about the Early Childhood Education program in the Wisconsin Technical College System, check out:

If you are new to taking credit-based classes, we recommend that you contact a Professional Development Counselor at the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association (WECA). This is a free service to help child care and school-age providers create customized plans for professional development. WECA Career Development Counselors will work with you to design a professional development plan that fits your needs.

Visit WECA’s Career Development Counseling webpage or call 1-800-783-9322, and select option 3 when prompted.

WECA can also help you:

Another professional development opportunity that is available is to think about earning a Wisconsin Registry Credential. These credit-based programs are focused on job-specific skills so students can apply the practical knowledge they learn to their current positions. Plus, for providers interested in obtaining associate or bachelor’s degrees, credentials can be the foundation for future credit-based instruction. Accredited technical colleges and universities located throughout the state of Wisconsin offer credential coursework.

How can families find information about the child care programs in their area?

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 level 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 a child care program is also provided through Child Care Finder. Child care certifiers and licensors visit each provider periodically in order to monitor for compliance of health and safety rules, such as child to teacher ratios and the overall safety of the environment. After each visit, that information is added to Child Care Finder.

How can I receive YoungStar updates?

Sign up for YoungStar and Child Care email updates by subscribing to the Child Care Listserv.

You can also visit the YoungStar homepage or the YoungStar Providers Page for updates.

Questions about YoungStar Program Types

School-Age Programs

Included in YoungStar?

Certified school-age programs and public school programs that accept Wisconsin Shares subsidy payments are included in YoungStar. DCF has developed specific criteria that use the same categories already established for YoungStar, but customized for school-age care’s unique characteristics. DCF has collaborated with the Wisconsin Afterschool Network and other school-age providers to design and implement the school-age evaluation criteria for YoungStar.

Do programs receive multiple ratings depending on the age of the children they care for?  

No. Programs are issued one rating for each Location Number (issued by licensing or certification staff). If there are different age groups present and a Formal Rating with Observation has been requested, the Formal Rater will use the Environment Rating Scale appropriate for the groups present.

What job titles do school-age programs use?

Group Leader and Site Supervisor are equivalent titles to Lead Teacher and Director.

The responsibilities assumed by the personnel determine the qualifications required:

  • Group Leader – responsibilities include supervision and guidance of a group of children in the program, under the direction of a Site Supervisor. Group Leaders assist in daily planning and implementation of activities, communicating with families, and relating to the community.
  • Site Supervisor (who may also be called the Director, Site Coordinator, or Administrator) – responsibilities include the overall direction and daily operation of the program. This position develops the mission, philosophy, goals, and policies for the program.  They are responsible for program planning and evaluation, administration (including fiscal management), and organizational development (including management of human resources).

Day Camps or Short Term Operational Programs

Included in YoungStar?

Licensed Day Camps (or Short Term Operational Programs) that enroll children for 14 weeks or fewer are included in YoungStar.  DCF worked with stakeholders to develop evaluation criteria that address the unique service delivery of day camps. This criteria includes the same broad categories already established for YoungStar, but with customization for a day camp’s unique characteristics. Visit the YoungStar Rating Criteria page for the Day Camp/Short Term Operational Program criteria.

How do day camps earn star ratings?

The YoungStar Evaluation Criteria for Day Camps is designed for licensed day camps with an operating timeframe of 14 weeks or fewer, a Formal Rating with Observation cannot be completed. For this reason, programs going through the YoungStar rating process will only be able to earn up to 3 Stars. 

If a licensed day camp wants to earn a star level higher than 3 Stars, the camp would need to be accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA). The ACA’s standards are linked to quality day camp programming similar to the standards required in YoungStar. Licensed day camps are encouraged to contact their local YoungStar office for more information.

What job titles do Day Camps use?

Counselor and Camp Director are equivalent titles to Lead Teacher and Director.

The responsibilities assumed by the personnel determine the qualifications required:

  • Counselor – responsibilities include supervision and guidance of a group of children in the program, under the direction of a Camp Director. Counselors assist in daily planning and implementation of activities, communicating with families, and relating to the community.
  • Camp Director (who may also be called Coordinator, Administrator, or simply Director) – responsibilities include the overall direction and daily operation of the program. This position develops the mission, philosophy, goals, and policies of the program. They are responsible for program planning and evaluation, administration (including fiscal management), and organizational development (including management of human resources).

4K Collaborations

What is 4K and do they collaborate with child care programs?

Many public school districts across Wisconsin offer four-year-old kindergarten or 4K. If a public school district offers 4K, state statutes require that 437 hours of instruction must be provided to age eligible four year old's.

Districts use a variety of approaches when providing 4K programming, for example, many districts offer 4K programming in a public school buildings (commonly called Model 1). Other school districts use community or collaborative models that bring the 4K program into child care classrooms. In these models, the school can hire the teacher (Model 2) or the school district may fund the community site (or child care) to hire the teacher (Model 3). In each model, the set up of the classroom can vary, from stand-alone classrooms to integrated and comprehensive scheduling in one classroom.

Can a child care program in a 4K community approach participate in YoungStar?

Child care/4K collaborations may participate in YoungStar if at least one (1) hour of child care service is provided per day outside of the 4K service delivery timeframe. If the program accepts Wisconsin Shares subsidy, it must participate in YoungStar. However, the educational qualifications of the 4K teacher may only be counted for YoungStar purposes if the teacher is in the classroom beyond the public school district-funded hours, and is providing child care services during the additional hours of the day. This classroom teacher, during non-4K hours, can receive technical consultation through YoungStar if the child care program has requested technical consultation.

Where can I find information and resources?

You can find information related to 4K programming on the Department of Public Instruction's 4K Program.

Resources and information related to 4K Community Collaborations can be found at the following pages:

Additional licensing information for 4K community models is available at Collaborative Child Care Programs – Frequently Asked Questions

Head Start Programs

What types of Head Start programs are there?

Head Start may be delivered through several approved program options, including center-based, licensed family child care, and home-based options. Descriptions of these models are available on the Head Star Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center (ECLKC) website.

Included in YoungStar?

Yes. The specifics of YoungStar participation vary according to the number of hours of child care provided by the site. To read more about the connections between YoungStar and Head Start, see the Policy on Head Start Participation in YoungStar.

Accredited Programs

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 on staff educational qualifications, in some cases). The accreditation process replaces the YoungStar rating process. See the YoungStar Accreditation Policy for more details.

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.