Child care is a growing need in the United States. According to 2014 statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, it is estimated that 33,000 young children in Denver need some kind of care during the day while their parents are at work. There are approximately 18,500 licensed child care slots in centers and homes for children 5 and younger. In the City and County of Denver there are approximately 640 licensed child care programs watching over children, ranging in size from large centers to small family child care homes.
Every year, these businesses are inspected by a small team within Denver’s Department of Environmental Health called the Child Care Program, part of the Public Health Inspections Division (PHI). A key part of PHI’s mission is to “protect the health of Denver by ensuring […] compliance with the respective laws [… and] resolving situations posing the greatest risk to the public health.” The Child Care Team is committed to upholding this mission and to ensuring the safety and well-being of Denver’s youngest and most vulnerable population no matter what, knowing that “it’s always about the kids!”
PHI’s Child Care Program is unique in comparison to others throughout the State because they conduct both health and licensing inspections for licensed childcare providers. The child care program regulates all licensed non-24 hour child care facilities in the City and County of Denver, conducting the health inspections as a responsibility of the Health Department, in addition to the licensing inspections as part of a contract that is held with the State of Colorado’s Office of Early Childhood – Division of Early Care and Learning. Therefore, whenever PHI’s child care inspectors visit a facility, two separate inspections are conducted and completed simultaneously – one for the City (health inspections), and one for the State (licensing inspection). The only exception to this are residential based child care facilities (family child care homes), which only receive a licensing inspection, as they are not required to submit to health inspections.
Denver is divided into 6 inspection districts, with one inspector assigned to each district. For the better part of 2015, however, the program only had 4 to 5 inspectors, which left 1-2 vacant districts that needed to be covered equally by the rest of the team. Furthermore, in February of 2015, the State of Colorado’s Office of Early Childhood announced increased inspection frequency requirements so that all facilities would have to be inspected within 18 months by December of 2015 and within 12 months by September of 2016, dramatically increasing their workload with a short turnaround time. In order to meet the new frequency requirements and serve 33,000 boys and girls, the Child Care Team worked diligently and performed approximately 1,200 health and licensing inspections and investigations in 2015.
“When we were first tasked with what seemed like an uphill battle, I wasn’t sure where to start. And on top of that, we were short on resources at the time, which made it seem that much more daunting” said Nicol Hogg, the program’s supervisor. After coming together as a team to figure out how they would meet the new state requirements, Nicol remembered a tool she learned while taking Black Belt training with the Peak Academy called Production Boards. Nicol recalls her hesitation in bringing up the idea to the team, “I was unsure about how they would respond to the idea at first, but it ended up being an asset to time management, organization and tracking productivity, which everyone appreciated. Of course this would not have been considered a success if it wasn’t for 100% buy in and execution by my team.”
After a little more than an hour the team designed their own production board that not only allowed them to track every inspection needed to be completed before the end of the year, but also helped them see if certain team members were more overloaded than others. Suddenly, team members would start taking cases from each other just to help each other out since they now could easily see when one team member was becoming overwhelmed. “The team just picked it up and ran with it right from the jump. It’s really not only a testament to the process, but to how willing and able my team is to see the greater picture, and truly be there to help each other out” Nicol said, proudly. By creating a simple production board with sticky notes and markers, they were able to turn an overwhelming situation into a manageable one, not only making it possible for them to complete all inspections by the December 31st deadline, but also ended up saving the City of Denver $1,175 in soft dollar savings by reducing the amount of time it took each day to allocate unassigned cases in the vacant districts. “I think it helped us not only become more productive, but also enabled us to transcend the day to day routine of focusing on our individual duties, and act as a team.”
We at the Peak Academy are so proud of PHI’s Child Care Team (Jose Alcerro, Melinda Hughes-Conner, Megan Harms, Lacey Puetz, Molly Wisdom, Caitlin Dunbar, Linda Hollins, and Nicol Hogg) for their willingness to innovate through challenges and accomplish such a difficult goal with teamwork, perseverance, and innovation!
Written by Nicol Hogg & Daniel Barton