First 5 Quality Counts

Early Brain Development

The early years are the foundation for your child’s success in school and life, so it’s important that your child’s program offer a healthy and loving environment for development and learning.

How does the rating system work?

Quality Counts early care and education programs are rated by independent observers who are experts in early childhood education. Child care programs earn stars for practices that are over and above licensing requirements in three areas:

  • Child development and school readiness;
  • Teachers and teaching;
  • Program and environment.

Quality Counts sites can receive training, coaching, and professional development. Also, a small amount of funding can help support a site's quality improvement plans. Ratings last for two years, and then a site may be re-rated.

What do the stars mean?

Programs can earn up to five stars. All participating programs are committed to quality which is an ongoing process, not a destination.

Family child care homes and centers that participate in Quality Counts have independent assessors observe their program and review their practices. These assessors are early childhood professionals who have been specially trained in how to review programs.

What 'Quality' Early Care Means

Rating Element

What it means

Child Development and School Readiness

  • How the program uses structured ways of observing children and uses those observations to inform curriculum
  • How the program works with families to track children’s health and development

Teachers and Teaching

  • Teachers’ qualifications and continuing education
  • Teacher-child interactions

Program and Environment

  • How many children and adults are in each classroom
  • Program environment and structure– for example: learning and play materials, health and safety practices, facilities, routines and transitions


How Does Quality Counts Help Programs Improve?

After it is rated, a program receives a Quality Counts Roadmap, a document that includes their star rating, detailed information about how they are doing in each area and suggestions for improvement. Next, the site works with coaches and other staff to develop a Quality Improvement Plan to strengthen their program. Plan activities might include how to:

  • Encourage social and emotional development;
  • Improve the learning environment;
  • Improve business practices;
  • Increase staff skills and knowledge;
  • Improve the facility.

After two years, each Quality Counts site can get a new rating.

Search Rated Programs

Frequently Asked Questions

If my child’s program isn’t in Quality Counts, does it mean they are not high quality?

We do not have enough funding for all early care and education programs in Alameda County to participate. Right now, most Quality Counts sites are publicly funded preschools that serve children with high needs. If a program does not have a rating, it does not mean that they are low quality, it just means that they are not participating in Quality Counts. Right now we have 100 programs participating in the county.

Contact your local child care resource and referral agency to learn more about the full range of early care and education options and what to look for when you are choosing a program.  Your resource and referral agency will help you develop a customized early care and education plan to meet your family’s needs.

My child’s program didn’t get a high rating. Should I be concerned?

Every star rating means that the program is committed to quality, meets licensing standards and has taken the first steps in their Quality Counts journey. Two sites at the same star level may look very different because they have earned points for different areas of quality.  If you are concerned, talk with your provider.

What’s in the Improvement Plan?

Ask your provider about it.  Rated sites have a “Site Rating Report” with their score details. You can download a copy of the site rating report here. Ask your child's provider to review it with you. Quality early care and education includes strong partnership between programs and families.

If my child's program is licensed, does that mean they are part of Quality Counts?

No. While all Quality Counts programs are licensed, not all licensed programs are part of Quality Counts.

How do I learn about the quality of my child’s program if they are not participating in Quality Counts?

Ask your child’s caregivers and teachers about their philosophy and practice.  If you can, spend some time observing. Do the caregiving and child interactions seem loving? Are there fun activities that help your child explore and learn? Does the environment encourage play and positive interactions?  Visit California’s Community Care Licensing Division website to learn more about licensing requirements and view licensing inspection information.

What else can I do as a parent?

Local Resource and Referral Agencies help parents find the right child care for their family.  These services are free and available to all families, regardless of income. Click here to find your local Resource and Referral Agency.