How Quality First Works

Parents consistently say that quality is one of the most important factors they consider when looking for child care. But quality may not always be easy for families to spot or for providers to achieve. That’s where Quality First can help.

Quality First — a program of First Things First — partners with child care and preschool providers across Arizona to improve the quality of early learning for kids birth to 5. Quality First has established a statewide standard of quality for early care and education programs and funds quality improvements that research proves help children thrive. This includes training for teachers to expand their skills in working with young children and coaching to help programs provide learning environments that nurture the emotional, social, language and cognitive development of every child.

Assessment and Coaching

Initial Assessment

Participation in Quality First starts with an initial program assessment which will provide a clear picture of your program — what’s great about it and the opportunities to do even better. A highly-trained Quality First assessor will visit your program to observe classrooms and interview teachers. The assessor will then rate various aspects of your program – the environment, curriculum, teacher-child interactions and more — using valid and reliable assessment tools. These scores will be used to determine your initial Quality First Star Rating and the supports and benefits your program is eligible to receive. (This initial rating will not be made public.)

Your Coach

You will receive coaching services from an experienced and knowledgeable coach who will support you with personalized guidance, training and mentoring. You and your coach will review the scores of your program assessments and your initial Quality First Star Rating, and together you will create a plan to improve the quality of your program. The standards are high, and reaching the quality level can take some time. Your coach will visit your program on a regular basis, from four to six hours per month, and work with you, one-on-one, to implement strategies to achieve and maintain quality.

Financial Support for your Program

Incentive Funds

Quality First provides financial support to all enrolled centers and homes for the purchase of educational materials, equipment and other resources that help improve the quality of your program. Some programs buy more age-appropriate books, toys or materials to help nurture the development of the children they serve. Others purchase new furniture or outdoor equipment to enhance their physical environments. How you use your funding will be decided in partnership with your coach according to your quality improvement plan. Funds are available annually, and the amount is based on the licensed capacity of children birth to 5 that your program serves.

DHS Licensing Fees

First Things First also supports Quality First providers whose programs are regulated by the Department of Health Services (DHS) with financial assistance to pay for 50 % of their licensing fees, which are due every three years.

Scholarships and incentives for you and your staff

Early care and education professionals — teachers, directors and caregivers — may be eligible for scholarships to help pay for college coursework leading to an early childhood degree or credential. FTF College Scholarships is a comprehensive scholarship program for the early childhood workforce that provides financial support for tuition, course fees, and books to support the achievement of a Child Development Associate Credential (CDA), Associate degree and, in some regions, a Bachelor’s degree. A bonus is given upon completion of education milestones. Staff currently working at center-based and family child care homes have priority for scholarships. FTF College Scholarships is a program of First Things First and is administered by Arizona PBS-Educational Outreach. To learn about eligibility requirements, participating colleges and universities and the degrees and credentials offered, or to apply for an FTF College Scholarship, contact 855.818.6613 or email

NOTE: The financial support and incentives available to Quality FIrst participants may vary and may not include all components listed here.

Support from a team of experts

Programs enrolled in Quality First are supported by specialists in children’s health, mental health and inclusion for children with special needs. Working together with you and your coach, these experts provide information and guidance to assist you in meeting the needs of the children in your program.

Improving child health and well–being

Quality early care and education starts with an emphasis on health and safety. Child care health consultants (CCHCs) are nurses and child health professionals specifically trained to help you improve and protect the health and well-being of the children in your care. They assist you and your staff with training and information on best practices and requirements in health, nutrition and safety and are available in person and for consultations by email or phone. They also provide information for families and referrals to additional health resources in your community.

Specific topics that your child care health consultant can assist you with include:

  • Safety and injury prevention
  • Nutrition and physical activity
  • Policies that reduce the spread of illness
  • Caring for children with special health care needs
  • Immunizations
  • Recognizing and reporting child abuse

Managing difficult behaviors (only available in certain regions)

Nurturing the social and emotional development of each child is another important part of quality early care and education. Mental health consultants are skilled specialists in early childhood social-emotional development who support you and your staff in creating positive environments and relationships so that all children in your program are engaged in learning.

They offer on-site training and strategies to help you:

  • Manage difficult behaviors (such as tantrums, biting, nap-time issues)
  • Identify and provide referrals for children who may need additional support
  • Aid effective communication between staff and children and their families

Supporting children with special needs (only available in certain regions)

Early care and education inclusion consultants provide training and assistance to improve the skills of teachers and caregivers in supporting young children with special needs.

Support can be offered in the following areas:

  • Screening for developmental concerns
  • Tips for talking with parents about developmental concerns
  • Strategies to support the success of a specific child
  • Community resources for early intervention for children with delays (therapists, school districts)

More Information

The Quality First Participant Guide (also available in Spanish) provides more information about the policies and guidelines that support participation in Quality First. Eligibility requirements are also outlined in detail.