Evaluation of Parent Aware: Minnesota’s Voluntary Child Care and Early Learning Program Quality Rating and Improvement System

The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) has contracted with Child Trends to independently evaluate Parent Aware—Minnesota’s voluntary quality rating and improvement system (QRIS) for early care and education programs—using an equity lens. This evaluation is required by law and funded by the federal American Rescue Plan Act, as determined by the 2021 Minnesota State Legislative Session.

The goal of the evaluation is to understand the degree to which Parent Aware supports positive outcomes for Minnesota’s children, families, and early care and education workforce. The evaluation, which takes place from March 2022 to July 2024, will explore these topics:

  • Children’s progress toward school readiness and changes in development over time
  • The quality of early care and education across the state
  • The availability of high-quality early care and education programs in Minnesota
  • Parents’ experiences with quality in early care and education and their opinions of Parent Aware
  • Child care providers’ ability to serve children and families, including those from racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse backgrounds

More detailed information about the various activities under this evaluation and the timeline for each activity can be found under Evaluation Activities and Timeline (below).

Project Updates

To share progress on the evaluation, our team will post updates on this webpage at least twice per year.

Project Update – March 2023

An important aspect of the Parent Aware Evaluation is to examine the degree to which Parent Aware Ratings capture a program’s quality, as well as the extent to which young children’s growth and learning over time are associated with Ratings. In Fall 2022, the Child Trends team launched this component of the evaluation and began recruiting child care programs and families to participate. However, many programs we contacted were unable to participate; most reported that they did not have time, that they faced ongoing challenges with staffing or staff turnover, or a host of other reasons related to the pandemic’s lingering effects on the child care sector.

Nevertheless, the Child Trends research team is moving forward with the study among the programs that agreed to participate. Because the work is at a much smaller scale, we have a more limited ability to address the originally proposed research questions. The team has been working closely with the Minnesota Department of Human Services to consider different activities for this evaluation using funds originally intended to support the activities related to program quality and children’s development.

The Child Trends team is still finalizing plans for the next year of the evaluation and will engage key partners—including the evaluation’s State and Community Advisory Committees, advocates, and others—to receive feedback on the newly proposed activities. Once our plans are finalized, we will post additional updates to this webpage and update the evaluation activities and timeline below to reflect the new activities. Stay tuned for more updates soon!

Project Update – October 2022

Evaluation Activities and Timeline

The evaluation takes place from March 2022 to July 2024 and includes the following research activities.

To support revisions and improvements to the Standards and Indicators that Parent Aware uses to define child care quality, our team is conducting:

  • An examination of Parent Aware’s Standards and Indicators for defining program quality
  • A comparison of Parent Aware with other states’ QRIS using interviews with state QRIS administrators and secondary data to examine state QRIS policies, implementation practices, and approaches to embedding equity in their QRIS
  • An analysis of Parent Aware Rating data to understand how participating programs select Indicators to earn points toward their desired Star Rating level, including whether there are specific Indicators that few or most programs meet and implications for how Parent Aware helps programs meet Indicators
  • Feedback sessions with families, child care providers, and Parent Aware coaches to gather input on proposed revisions to Parent Aware Standards and Indicators, developed in collaboration with DHS
  • Other ongoing consultation and research support to inform improvements to Parent Aware Standards and Indicators, provided by our team of experienced researchers with expertise in child care quality, children’s development, and equity

To explore the child care landscape in Minnesota and understand the factors that support or create barriers to programs participating in Parent Aware, our team is conducting:

  • An analysis of the statewide availability of child care and Parent Aware Rated programs, with comparisons to understand where programs are located in the state relative to the communities being served
  • Listening sessions with Rated and Unrated programs to understand their experiences with and perceptions of Parent Aware, including the application processes, any administrative or financial burden of participating in Parent Aware, and the degree to which Parent Aware supports the racial, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity of child care programs and the families they serve

To assess quality and children’s development in Rated programs and determine the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Minnesota’s children, families, and child care providers, our team is conducting the following evaluation activities:*

*Note that these activities have been modified from those originally planned. These changes result from feedback from child care programs regarding their limited capacity to participate in an evaluation as a result of the heightened stressors and barriers they continue to face in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. See the Project Update posted March 2023 for more information.

  • A comparison of the various pathways through which programs can become Parent Aware Rated and a review of associated requirements
  • An analysis of quality and assessments of children’s development in Parent Aware Rated programs, with an emphasis on understanding programs’ practices related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as the unique context of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on children’s early learning experiences
    • For the analysis of quality, our team will a) survey participating providers about their professional characteristics, classroom practices, and attitudes and beliefs; and b) analyze video-recorded observations from participating Rated programs
    • For assessments of children’s developmental gains, we will recruit up to five families from each classroom or program participating in the analysis of quality activity (see above) to complete short surveys about their child’s development, twice each during the 2022-23 school year; participating teachers/providers will also complete assessments about the same participating children twice during the year using the same child assessment measure—the Healthy and Ready to Learn measure
  • A statewide survey of child care providers and families with young children to understand their experiences providing and accessing child care during and in the aftermath of the pandemic, impacts to their needs and ability to access services, changes in their perceptions of program quality, what families and providers notice about children’s developmental strengths and areas of need, and opportunities for Parent Aware to better support the needs of child care providers and families.
  • Additional focus groups or participatory sessions with providers and families to further explore questions or topics that emerge through the statewide surveys and/or other evaluation activities

The project has flexibility for Child Trends to propose additional activities to examine quality improvement or the implications of any new legislation that may inform the state or other Parent Aware stakeholders.

A detailed overview of all evaluation activities, findings, and implications for future improvements to Parent Aware will be included in a final report submitted to DHS in July 2024. The final report will be made publicly available, and the project team will post a link to this page once it is released.

A timeline for each component of the evaluation is provided below.

parent aware timeline

Community Engagement

Throughout the project, the Child Trends team asks various stakeholders and members of the community to provide feedback on the evaluation through two committees:

  • State Advisory Committee (meets annually): staff from DHS and the Minnesota Departments of Education, Health, and Management and Budget, as well as the Children’s Cabinet
  • Community Advisory Committee (meets approximately once every four months): representatives from state government agencies, Child Care Aware of Minnesota, advocacy and research organizations, and child care providers


If you have questions about the Parent Aware Evaluation, please contact Lyn Rhodes, the DHS Project Manager for the evaluation, at lynda.rhodes@state.mn.us.

Project Partners

  • Kristine Andrews, Ideas to Impact Consulting
  • Jennifer Valorose & Briellen Griffin, Wilder Research
  • Stephanie Currenton, Center on the Ecology of Early Development (CEED) at Boston University

Project Staff