Quality Child Care: Defining Cities' Responsibility

Article excerpt

"The level of quality at most child care centers does not meet children's needs for health, safety, warm relationships and learning," according to a recently reported, 18-month study conducted at child care centers in California, Connecticut, North Carolina, and Colorado.

The findings from "Cost, Quality, and Child Outcomes in Child Care Centers" send a clear message to cities and the public that all may not be well."

The study states that 7 out of 10 centers provide only minimal quality. In those centers caring for infants and toddlers, only eight percent were providing good quality and forty percent were rated as less than minimal. (Please refer to accompanying box for summary of key points and information on how to order the study.

However, our informal survey of several municipal child care coordinators shows that cities are taking action to ensure that families have access to high quality, affordable child care. It is heartening to note that the cities contacted have vital programs in place that support and enhance the quality of child care services in their communities.

This survey of selected cities shows some common threads among those cities that have a child care initiative in place. The respondents indicate that these threads pull together to improve the quality and affordability of child care in their municipalities. The common threads are:

* training and technical assistance for child care providers

* recognition events for high quality child care programs.

* resource centers for parents, providers and the business community.

* child care referral services for parents and/or support for local referral agencies.

* collaborations and partnerships with businesses.

* financial assistance to parents.

* financial assistance to providers.

* in-kind services to providers.

* public awareness activities.

In answering our survey, several municipal child care coordinators offered advice to local government officials wishing to address the child care issues in their communities. Their responses echo many of the child care initiatives listed above.

Jackie Neel, Division Head for Child Care in Cambridge, Mass., believes that child care "must be an integral part of the municipal infrastructure. It needs to be recognized and supported on the same level as trash collection and street repairs and paving." Neel also believes that child care is "the best crime prevention method around."

The importance of having a child care coordinator was emphasized by Deb Ferrin, Child Care Coordinator for San Diego, Calif. She believes a coordinator can "help increase accessibility to high quality, affordable child care."

This emphasis on high quality and affordability was repeated by Barbara Kamara, Executive Director, Office of Early Childhood Development in Washington, D.C. "High quality, affordable and accessible child care options are essential to the general well- being of working parents," according to Kamara. "Employers should be invested with the responsibility for supporting child care through a variety of alternative methods."

However, employers often don't know where to turn for help. Frequently, cities and businesses form partnerships or collaboratives to deal with child care issues. Martha Daley, Director of the Office of Child Care Initiatives for Denver, Colo., believes the business community should be more involved with child care. …