WASHINGTON, DC - The quality of child care is critical to the well being and future success of nearly 12 million children under age 5 cared for in child care in the United States. News regarding a recent study suggests that spending time in child care makes children more likely to exhibit behavioral problems in sixth grade. But, as researchers of the report emphasized, the behavior of children in the study was within normal range.
The long-term study was conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), and includes a report released late last year. The study also indicated that children in higher-quality child care have better vocabulary scores and cognitive and social development, and are better prepared for school. What does all of this mean?
"The quality of child care child matters," says Linda K. Smith, Executive Director of the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA). "Although quality may not be linked to behavioral problems, we know from years of research that it is without question linked to school-readiness skills, including language and cognitive function. And, the quality of care most certainly affects children's health and safety."
NICHD's study determined that less than 10 percent of child care settings in the U.S. are high quality. Yet, as illustrated in We Can Do Better: NACCRRA's Ranking of State Child Care Center Standards and Oversight, released earlier this month, states fall far short of meeting basic requirements needed to protect the health and safety of children in child care, and to promote their school readiness. We Can Do Better indicates that states could increase quality by strengthening weak child care oversight and standards, including those for pre-service training of child care providers, staff to child ratios, and group sizes.
Teacher qualifications significantly affect the quality of child care, yet NACCRRA's We Can Do Better report found that only 12 states require teachers in child care centers to have any training in early childhood education before working with children. 21 states do not even require teachers in centers to have a high school diploma or GED. No state has requirements that meet all nationally-accepted staff to child ratios, nor group sizes, in all seven age groups. And, only 13 states require centers to address all six areas scientifically determined critical to child development.
"The results of NACCRRA's report should be a wake-up call to policy-makers," says Smith. "While we don't have high-quality child care now, we could. And, we should. What we need is for policymakers to make the connection between quality care and child outcomes."
What can parents do? They can tell their Governor that the current quality of child care is not acceptable and that their state can and must do better. They can also help ensure that their child care program is high-quality by visiting NACCRRA's website, www.naccrra.org. Here, parents can download informational resources such as Is This the Right Place for My Child?, a booklet that helps them assess the quality of child care programs. Parents can also contact their local Child Care Resource & Referral agency, which they can find online at www.childcareaware.org, for additional resources.
To download NACCRRA's report, We Can Do Better: NACCRRA's Ranking of State Child Care Center Standards and Oversight, visit www.naccrra.org.