Child care in Minnesota: CCFP helps meet growing need for quality child care

Child care in Minnesota: CCFP helps meet growing need for quality child care – Child Care Food Program

Lawrence Rudman

“Clothes can be a sign of a good child care provider,” says Connie Johnson, a 14-year veteran child care provider in Champlin, Minnesota. “Look for worn jean knees. And look for the Child Care Food Program.”

Johnson operates one of the 7,000 family day care homes in Minnesota that participate in USDA’s Child Care Food Program (CCFP). A high-energy person with children of her own, Johnson says CCFP is the reason she has been able to continue as a day care provider for 14 years.

Established as a pilot program in 1968 and expanded nationally in 1975, the Child Care Food Program provides both financial support and USDA-donated food to child care facilities. Currently, CCFP provides nutritious meals and snacks to more than 1.2 million children in nearly 90,000 family day care homes and 18,000 day care centers across the country.

The program has grown steadily, serving 42 million meals in 1970, 436 million in 1980, and 725 million in fiscal year 1987. Federal funding has also increased. Last year, federal funding totalled more than $551 million, not including the value of USDAdonated food provided through the program.

A look at CCFP in Minnesota

One state with a strong Child Care Food Program is Minnesota. As in most states, Minnesota’s department of education administers CCFP through agreements with public and private institutions, such as day care centers, Head Start programs, settlement houses, recreation centers, institutions for handicapped children, and organizations sponsoring family or group day care homes.

Although Minnesota has a relatively sparse population, the state has the second largest number, after California, of family day care homes participating in the Child Care Food Program.

According to Carolyn Brown, manager of child care programs at the state department of education, the Child Care Food Program has contributed to the growth of family day care homes throughout Minnesota.

“We also have a strong licensing system in place, as well as good cooperation among the state and federal government, sponsors, and providers,” Brown explains.

Family and day care homes must be sponsored by a public or private nonprofit organization to participate in CCFP. Day care centers can operate in the program either independently or under the auspices of a sponsoring organization.

Providers get special training

Russ Circo, director of USDA’s child nutrition programs for the Food and Nutrition Service’s Midwest region, says that one reason for Minnesota’s success in administering the Child Care Food Program is the quality of training given to day care providers in the state.

Training child care providers in operating CCFP is a major responsibility for both the state administering agency and sponsoring organizations.

“Child care, especially home day care, can be a very isolating kind of job,” says David Allen, executive director of Resources for Child Caring, Inc., which sponsors 600 day care homes in 10 Minnesota counties.

Allen says a field representative visits each home three times a year to monitor meal pattern requirements and offer nutrition advice and meal planning guidance.

Participation in the Child Care Food Program requires providers to keep daily records of what each child eats. Meals offered include breakfast, morning snack, lunch, and afternoon snack or supper; however, only two meals and one snack are reimbursable under the program.

In addition to home visits, sponsors offer a variety of training opportunities to help providers plan and prepare nourishing, well-balanced meals.

For example, the Adults and Children’s Alliance, which sponsors nearly 900 day care homes throughout Minnesota, conducts evening workshops for providers on sanitation, food safety, and evaluating recipes.

Sue Duley, nutrition director for the Minnesota Licensed Childcare Association, another major day care sponsor, has developed a nutrition correspondence course for providers. She has also, with assistance from the Food and Nutrition Service’s Midwest staff, reprinted and distributed USDA’s “Food Buying Guide for Family Day Care Homes.”

Program encourages quality child care

The Child Care Food Program, and the training that comes with it, have a tremendous impact, say sponsors and state administrators.

“The program makes a significant difference in the quality of what a child eats in the formative years,” says David Allen of Resources for Child Caring. “This is important for both physical and mental development.”

The program also helps make child care affordable for low-income families, Allen says. “Without it,” he says, “child care fees would rise 10 to 20 percent.”

Gail Birch, chief executive officer of Provider’s Choice, Inc., sees the CCFP as an incentive for centers and homes to meet high standards.

“CCFP encourages providers to get licensed,” Birch says, “and licensing ensures that children will be in a safe, clean environment, that staff and child ratios will be maintained, and that good food will be served.”

Provider’s Choice administers the program for 30,000 children in 3,000 day care homes throughout Minnesota. It is the second largest CCFP sponsor in the nation.

“CCFP sponsors give home day care providers training and support,” says Birch. “They treat providers as professionals, which enhances the status of child care.”

Connie Johnson agrees. “When I first started, the status of child care was dismal,” she says. “It was an attitude of, ‘Oh, you’re just a babysitter’.”

Being part of the Child Care Food Program has helped upgrade her image. “I’ve become a nutrition resource for parents,” she says, adding that they often ask her questions about their children’s eating habits.

“Parents don’t have to worry about food problems because they know how well their children are eating,” she says.

Making children feel at home

According to Johnson, support from her sponsoring organization is one of the reasons the Child Care Food Program works well in her home. She credits sponsor training in recordkeeping and nutrition planning as crucial to the success of the program for both providers and children.

“When I was first introduced to the program, I was skeptical,” Johnson says. “It sounded too good. But it works. I want to create the closest thing to a home environment as possible, and serving good food helps me do that.”

In Minnesota, as across the U.S., the demand for quality day care is increasing. More than 60 percent of all mothers with children under 18 years old are in the labor force; more than 50 percent of mothers (8 million) with preschool children now hold jobs.

“Given the structure of the American family, the Child Care Food Program helps meet a tremendous need,” says Russ Circo. “It demands professionalism and accountability in all aspects of providing this much needed service to children and their parents.”

For more information, contact:

Margaret Drey, Director

Child Nutrition Section

State Department of Education

Capitol Square Building-Room 951

550 Cedar Street

St. Paul, Minnesota 55101

Telephone: (612) 296-6986 l

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