Pennsylvania Early Learning Keys to Quality


The Department of Human Services (DHS) established the Office of Child Development in September 2004. The creation of a new office focused on early care and education demonstrates DHS' commitment to creating a seamless system to serve young children and their families. The Office of Child Development quickly began addressing the issue of streamlining the patchwork of loosely related programs currently used to develop high-quality child care services and a well-trained set of early care and education professionals. The Pennsylvania Early Learning Keys to Quality (PA Keys to Quality) is a quality improvement system in which all early learning programs and practitioners are encouraged and supported to improve child outcomes.


All Pennsylvania families will have access to high-quality early care and education and school-age child care opportunities for their children that foster success in school and in life.


To create a quality improvement system in which all early learning programs and practitioners are encouraged and supported to improve child outcomes. Improvements in programming are designed to increase the capacity to support children's learning and development; increase educational attainment among practitioners; enhance professional skills and competencies in support of children's learning and development.

Guiding Principles

  • High-quality benefits for children
  • Individually and culturally appropriate high expectations for children's learning
  • Leadership
  • State and regional coordination
  • Commitment to quality content
  • All practitioners participate in quality improvement activities
  • Focus on credentials and professionalism
  • Systems coordination, integration, and accountability
  • Compensation, funding, and financing
  • Public, stakeholder, and community engagement


PA Keys to Quality brings together the numerous organizations and programs addressing quality improvement and professional development (e.g., Child Care Resource Developers, PA Pathways, STARS TA and Environmental Rating Scale Assessors) and closely works with DHS to reconfigure the Pennsylvania system of supports for early learning programs. PA Keys to Quality builds bridges across state government departments. For example, information developed in the Department of Education (e.g., Early Learning Standards) is used to inform interventions that are funded, at least in part, by the Department of Health (e.g., ECELS). These are blended with DHS early learning strategies, creating one vision for all early care and education programs, practitioners, children, and families.

To implement PA Keys to Quality, a central key will be established in Harrisburg to coordinate programming. Early Learning Resource Centers (ELRC's) will be formed across the Commonwealth to provide general oversight and leadership for the system.

  • The PA Keys to Quality Center will create a comprehensive approach to a career lattice, research effective outreach to relative/neighbor care, employ and supervise the Environmental Rating Scale Assessors, and generally provide technical assistance and support to the ELRCs.
  • The ELRCs will develop regional quality improvement plans for professional development and technical assistance; encourage participation in Keystone STARS; assist programs in accessing financial supports for STARS; and conduct outreach campaigns.

Contact Information

Office of Child Development
Department of Human Services
Department of Education
333 Market Street
Harrisburg, PA 17126
Phone: 717- 346-9320