Quality - The degree of excellence.
How do we define quality child care in Calaveras County? Are our standards different than urban areas? Are our needs different? How do we regulate and monitor the quality of our providers? Are our providers properly trained? Is child safety being attended to? How can someone seeking child care evaluate these factors and make an informed decision?
Relationships between providers, children and families are critical to a quality setting. Good relationships are enhanced when group size and the number of children per adult is limited. Smaller groups are needed in family child care. Adult to child ratio varies with type of care and age of children served.
Training, educational background and the experience level of the staff are critical factors in the overall quality of care provided. Education in child development, communication, , family engagement, health and safety, as well as knowledge and experience to properly interpret behavioural patterns are indispensable qualities for care providers. A provider who is well trained and shares a parent’s values will offer the best balance between the child care facility and the home.
Environment encompasses more than the physical space offered by the child care provider. A safe environment, indoor and outdoor play areas, social interaction with other children and adults, and an environment that is culturally relevant to help prepare a child for their life experiences.
The programming offered encompasses both the philosophy of the child care provider and the style of implementation. The selection process should include an interview of potential child care providers to select a situation that meets the needs of the parent.
Quality is the name of the game! One of the barriers to quality child care is the cost of providing services. Many child care providers operate on a limited budget because their income relies on parent fees. Child care providers find it difficult to charge fees that truly reflect the costs of the services they provide, because many parents cannot afford these fees. Many families with young children are on very tight budgets and can’t afford the best programs even when fees seem relatively low.
When resources are limited, one of the first areas to suffer is staff compensation. Like most businesses, personnel costs represent a large percentage of a child care provider’s budget. Salaries are often one of the few “negotiable” items. Costs such as insurance, rent or mortgage, and utilities must be paid. Rising costs in these areas have contributed to budget strain. Early childhood educators – both in centers and family child care homes – have essentially subsidized the provision of services by accepting wages far below the value and importance of their work.
The full cost of quality means recognizing that quality has a price that must be paid. But, the cost of not providing quality is higher. When quality is lacking, children suffer. Families suffer. Our society suffers. Early childhood programs are an investment in our community’s future. And, like all sound investments, an investment in quality reaps dividends many times the original investment. Every sector of our society – government, business and industry, voluntary organizations, foundations, religious organizations – has a responsibility to invest in our community’s children by providing the best early care and education.
We must recognize that good early childhood programs benefit more than children and their families. They are an essential support to business and industry – now and in the future. When parents know their children in a safe, supportive setting, they are more productive on the job. When children attend high quality programs, they are better prepared to succeed in school and eventually enter the workforce as productive citizens.
Our community support public systems of elementary schools, high schools, colleges, and universities. We don’t expect families to pay the full cost, because all of society benefits when citizens are provided with a good education. We must rethink and support early childhood programs for the very same reason.
Quality in Calaveras County: In 2003, the CCCC surveyed families in Calaveras County and asked what they felt a “quality” child care setting included, see their response here: A Community Definition of Quality Child Care