High Quality Childcare as a Component of High Quality ECE, by Dr. Gabino Aguirre
By Dr. Gabino Aguirre, Isabella Project Co-Chair
As part of the Isabella Project, we often speak about the provision of childcare for families so they may take advantage of existing ECE opportunities and/or for parents to access employment. But what do we mean by “quality” in early childhood education and care? Research shows us that programs that have positive impacts on young children’s development provide some combination of the following features: highly skilled staff, small class sizes and high adult-to-child ratios, a language-rich environment, age-appropriate curricula and stimulating materials in a safe physical setting, and warm and responsive interactions between staff and children.
Through the eyes of children, a high-quality program may mean feeling accepted for who they are no matter their ability or culture. It means having friends and responsive adults, being emotionally and physically comfortable, and the possibility of having a variety of fun, interesting and engaging activities.
Through the eyes of parents, quality childcare safeguards a child’s health and safety and where the child is happy, and the program is conveniently located and affordable. For some families, quality childcare is key to balancing work and family, so that parents have peace of mind while they are at work. Other parents may define a high quality program as one that incorporates tangible school readiness activities, such as pre- or early reading or learning to count, or highlighting learning social skills such as cooperation. Or they may define a quality environment as one in which their families’ culture and their child’s abilities are respected. Or parents may define high quality child care as an environment in which their child is happy, makes friends, has interesting and positive experiences, and learns about a wide variety of things. Or…all the above!
All the above experiences are generally offered in center-based programs which must meet state and federal standards and regulations. But if these are not available or accessible, what about unregulated childcare? Many families with parents in the labor force must rely on an unregulated arrangement. So, in this case, parents have sole responsibility for assessing the quality of childcare and finding a new provider if the arrangement turns out to be of low quality. But what can parents look for to ascertain high quality? They must become well informed about health and safety and the elements of high quality childcare. Some of these elements include health and safety, programming, maximum number of children by age, physical space and caregiver training and support. This awareness of basic guidelines is imperative since there is no public oversight or monitoring, no support system, and no training requirements. We suggest developing and working through a written contract with an unregulated family childcare provider that includes the amount of payment, schedule, benefits, hours, sick days and holidays, cancellation and termination of care, etc. The research is clear on the imperative for the incorporation of high quality early childhood programs and high quality childcare as part of the Isabella Project.