Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

Centre-Based Child Care Quality in Urban Australia

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

Centre-Based Child Care Quality in Urban Australia

Article excerpt

Introduction

OVER THE PAST TWO DECADES issues affecting children's development, such as family structure, career expectations of women and the cost of living, have changed dramatically in Australia. A similar situation exists in the United Kingdom and in the United States, where Clarke-Stewart and Allhusen (2005) have argued that women are under significant pressure to become more active in the workforce. As a result, childcare sectors in Australia (e.g. long day care, preschool, family day care, home-based services) have blossomed as demand has grown (Elliott, 2006a). At the same time, however, issues of child care quality have become increasingly important.

According to the 2004 Census of Child Care Services in Australia, the number of children attending centre-based child care rose dramatically by 22 per cent between 1999 and 2002, and further increased 4.4 per cent by 2004 (Elliott, 2006b). Furthermore, this growth in childcare centre provision is likely to continue in urban Australian communities for some time (Elliott, 2006b). Parallel to this growth is two decades of international research that has firmly established the impact of childcare centre quality upon children's developmental outcomes (Clarke-Stewart & Allhusen, 2005; Schweinhart et al., 2005; Sylva, Melhuish, Sammons, Siraj-Blatchford & Taggart, 2004). As more Australian children attend childcare centres, the quality of these centres' provision will become an increasingly critical, though rarely examined, issue as they hold potential to optimise or detract from favourable child development.

Research in England, particularly the Effective Provision of Preschool Education: EPPE suggests that disadvantaged children benefit significantly from high-quality preschool (Sylva et al., 2004). Studies from the US also suggest that, for children from low-income families, prior-to-school experience has a positive impact on their cognitive and social outcomes (High Scope Perry Preschool (Schweinhart et al., 2005, 1997); Chicago Child-Parent Centers (CPC) program (Reynolds, Temple, Robertson & Mann, 2001); Abecedarian project (Campbell, Ramey, Pungello, Sparling & Miller-Johnson, 2002)). However, there is a dearth of research investigating quality in Australia (Fleer, 2000; Ishimine, 2008). In particular, there is no research examining childcare centre quality and the relationship to location demographics. In this paper we explore childcare centre quality in relation to the level of disadvantage of the region where the centre is located (i.e. the Centre Location Demographic, or CLD--a proxy for socioeconomic status or SES).

Childcare centre and CLD

Research addressing childcare centre quality is in demand from practitioners and policy-makers, in terms of improved early childhood provision for the future (Sylva et al., 2006). Much of this revolves around the argument that childcare centre quality enhances children's cognitive and social development (Burchinal et al., 2000; Burchinal & Cryer, 2003; Sylva et al., 2004; Howes & James, 2004; Kwan, Sylva & Reeves, 1998; Li-Grining & Coley, 2006). Quality in child care is generally accepted as having two dimensions--structural quality (e.g. curriculum, environment, teacher education) and process quality (e.g. staff-child interaction) (Sylva et al., 2004; Fleer, 2000). Strength in one dimension is regarded as insufficient to foster children's overall development, while children from low-income families benefit more from quality child care than do others (Sylva et al., 2004; Vandell, 2004).

McLoyd (1998) contends that the impact of social disadvantage as measured by Socio-Economic Status (SES) can be observed at a very early age and will continue through a person's life. Several research studies have shown that children who grow up in low-income families have an increased risk of academic difficulties and behaviour problems in later life (Bradley & Corwyn, 2002; McLoyd, 1998). …

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