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Home > Practice Areas > Child Care and Development > Child Care Information Center

 
 

Policy and Community Influences on Child Care

Current research in childhood development has confirmed the long-standing belief that children's early experiences--from birth to school age-- are a powerful statistical predictor of subsequent learning and relationship patterns. Although early childhood experiences do not offer a blueprint for later life, they do set the context in which continuing learning and socialization occur. 1 Because child care quality depends largely on factors external to actual care, such as funding availability and public education, policymakers and community leaders have great potential as catalysts in raising the quality of child care throughout America.

An increasing number of children spend time in out-of-home care--with 12 million preschool-age children in care every day. 2 Although minimal state requirements exist to ensure children's safety, the quality of care varies widely--from nurturing, supportive caregiving to arrangements that compromise children's health and safety. Although there is no one comprehensive definition of high quality care, From Neurons to Neighborhoods highlights its key features:

Young children whose caregivers provide ample verbal and cognitive stimulation, who are sensitive and responsive, and who give them generous amounts of attention and support are more advanced in all realms of development compared with children who fail to receive these important inputs. 3

Unfortunately, a recent study discovered that only 2 out of 10 child care centers meet high quality standards, with the rest minimally adequate or inadequate; and only 4% of family child care programs meet high quality standards. 4 This means the vast majority of children do not have access to out-of-home care that gives them the opportunity to take full advantage of their developmental capacity.

The quality of care depends on factors that influence the care environment, such as caregiver education, ongoing professional development opportunities, and wages, as well as the caregiver-to-child ratio and group size. Minor improvements in any of these categories-- such as adding an adult to the classroom, increasing caregiver salary, 5 or sponsoring a head teacher's attendance to a specialized workshop.--have powerful effects on care quality. 6 The U.S. Department of Defense child care program was dramatically improved after the Military Child Care Act of 1989 increased worker wages and conditions, reducing turnover--a stressful and destabilizing experience for children--by 25% over the course of three years. 7
[For more on the Defense Department's child care program, see "Child Care: All That It Can Be? The U.S. military offers and encouraging model" from the January 2001 issue of Children's Voice.]
The problem of poor care does not exist in a vacuum. The extent to which the conditions that affect care quality can be supported depends on a broader community and policy context. Funding is needed to increase wages and offer professional development for care providers, increase adult-to-child ratios, decrease group size, and train effective child care center administrators.

Community involvement and support have to be in place to develop and maintain local care programs. Laws and regulations are necessary for protecting children from unsafe care. 8 The people who make decisions about child care program funding, community development programs, laws, and other factors that are critical to care quality do not work in the child care field. They are political leaders, heads of companies, local organizers, and others in positions of influence.

As the number of children who need of out-of-home care swell, political and community leaders have the opportunity to make quality child care programs available to more families. This is critical for children's development and for America's future.

There is no one way to improve care quality--a variety of local, state, and national initiatives have succeeded in contributing to bettering care. Click here to learn more about programs that work for America's children.
Notes
  1. National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. (2000). From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. (pp. 89-91). Washington, DC: National Academy Press. back

  2. Children's Defense Fund. (2005). Child Care Basics. Retrieved online, August 31, 2005. Washington, DC: Children's Defense Fund. back

  3. National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. (2000). From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. (p. 315). Washington, DC: National Academy Press. back

  4. Children's Defense Fund. (2005). Child Care Basics. Retrieved online, August 31, 2005. Washington, DC: Children's Defense Fund. back

  5. The median hourly wage for a child care worker is $7.90, according to Center for the Child Care Workforce. (2004). Current Data on the Salaries and Benefits of the U.S. Early Childhood Education Workforce. Retrieved online, August 31, 2005. Washington, DC: Author. back

  6. National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. (2000). From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. (p. 316). Washington, DC: National Academy Press. back

  7. Ibid., p. 319. back

  8. Ibid., p. 318. back

More Information

  • Economic Impact of Child Care
    What is the current role of child care in our economy, and what economic potential does quality child care have for the future?

  • Resources for Leaders
    What can I do to improve child care quality and availability in my community?



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