ANN ARBOR, Mich., April 25, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- The Women's Caring Program board today announced SPARK, a new collaborative program that combines child care scholarships with quality assessments. The result: a better start for more of Michigan's youngest children.
SPARK seeks to improve the quality of early childhood caregiving, provide early care and education scholarships and measure the results in two test counties, with the long-term goal of replicating this project in counties through the state.
Beginning first in Oakland (Pontiac) and Monroe counties, the SPARK program has at its core individual scholarships provided by the DTE Energy Foundation. The grant pays for these scholarships, which cover 75 percent of the cost of child care for one family for one year. As part of the program, the childcare provider agrees to a year-long quality assessment, funded by the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan. By improving the childcare center's quality through the national-recognized PQA (program quality assessment) process, all the children in the center will benefit. The PQAs will be administered by Great Start Collaborative Oakland (Oakland Schools) and Child Care Network.
The SPARK program was announced at a gathering today in Pleasant Ridge celebrating the National Week of the Young Child, a national celebration hosted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
"This program is a natural extension of the work Women's Caring Program has done with our ChildCare Commitment scholarships since 1999," said Colleen Robar, president, Women's Caring Program. "We know children thrive in quality early education settings. The SPARK program will now help raise the bar for providers."
Fred Shell, vice president of Corporate and Government Affairs for DTE Energy and president of the DTE Energy Foundation, commended the Women's Caring Program for helping families on the road to independence. "SPARK will help strengthen our economy by enabling families to go to work, and preparing children for success in school and ultimately our state's work force," Shell said. "The SPARK scholarship program is part of the foundation's broader commitment to initiatives that develop and inspire young people to reach their potential."
For the past two years, Women's Caring Program has worked closely with the Max M. & Marjorie Fisher Foundation and Development Centers Inc. on a similar and successful scholarship and quality assessment program in the Brightmoor neighborhood of Detroit.
The Fisher family continues to support the work of Women's Caring Program. At the event, a $50,000 challenge grant from the Fisher Family—Phillip Fisher, his mother, Marjorie, and sister Julie Fisher Cummings—was also announced.
When at-risk children start kindergarten behind their middle-class peers, studies show they rarely catch up. Research also indicates quality early care and education enhances a child's school performance and work-life success. The single most important factor in improving a child's ability to be successful and productive is quality education.
In Michigan, two out of every five children reside in low-income households (income under $44,200 for a family of four). This rate is up more than 40 percent since 2000.
WCP, a public nonprofit organization, has raised more than $2 million for Michigan children since 1995. Through its signature program, ChildCare Commitment, the group helps working families who make too much for state child care assistance but don't make enough to afford quality, licensed child care and education programs.
For more information about Women's Caring Program, visit www.womenscaringprogram.org.
SOURCE Women's Caring Program