Study: Many child care centers low-quality

Every weekday, hundreds of thousands of Georgia’s young children are dropped off at child care centers while their parents head off to work.

Most of the infants and toddlers and many of the preschoolers likely go to classrooms that provide low-quality care.

The children in these classes may have few age-appropriate toys to play with, and they may have teachers who lack the language skills to promote learning. Children may be exposed to safety hazards ranging from unprotected electrical outlets to dangerous playground surfaces.

These are among the conclusions of a recent study assessing the quality of the state’s 3,100 licensed child care centers.

Meanwhile, a growing body of research links the quality of early childhood care to future academic and social skills.

“What we do know is that young children are learning and what they learn impacts the rest of their lives,” said Holly A. Robinson, commissioner of Bright From the Start, Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, which commissioned the study.

Robinson said her agency contracted with the FGP Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to do the study, with the goal of helping improve the state’s allocation of limited resources.

The researchers also evaluated the quality of Georgia’s pre-k program. They concluded the overall program has a solid foundation that provides good learning materials and warm, supportive classrooms.

The UNC researchers visited 112 child care centers that serve children up to 5 years old.

They looked at factors including teacher and staff turnover and whether the physical space was conducive to learning. They also evaluated whether the centers’ staff and programs fostered fine motor skills and language and literacy development.

On the positive side, the researchers found that virtually all classrooms met the size and staff ratios required for licensure.

But that was one of few positives. The study concluded that few young children received high quality care — only 5 percent of infant/toddler classrooms and 5 percent of preschool classrooms rated as high quality.

“Of equal, if not greater concern, is the percentage of classrooms rated as having ‘low’ quality of care,” the researchers concluded.

Eighty percent of preschool classrooms were rated as having “deficient” or “inadequate” language and literacy practices. More than one-third of the preschool classrooms were rated as providing low quality care. More than two-thirds of the infant and toddler classrooms were.

“Those 0 to 3 years are about more than those kids being diapered and getting a nap,” said Mary Mazarky, Bright From the Start’s assistant commissioner for Pre-K.

The researchers also examined the qualifications of teachers and staff. More than three-fourths of the teachers in infant and toddler classrooms did not hold college degrees. More than two-thirds of lead teachers in the preschool classrooms had only high school diplomas.

The centers also were hampered by high teacher turnover, which can be stressful for children and make it difficult to provide ongoing, high quality care, researchers said. The centers lost almost one-fourth of their lead teachers in a year while more than one-third of assistant teachers moved on.

Barbara Clay, director of the Scottdale Child Development and Family Resource Center in DeKalb County, called the findings troubling.

“I thought we had moved past this,” she said.

Clay’s center, a nonprofit that opened in 1977 to serve low- and moderate-income children, was not part of the study. It serves 90 children ages six weeks to five years. The center is nationally accredited, which requires that teachers meet educational standards.

“It is important because you want to make sure your teachers are educated, knowledgeable and staying abreast of the trends in early childhood education,” Clay said. “And when teachers understand that you have to interact, read, sing, engage in appropriate activities, get down on the children’s level, that is half the battle.”

Despite drastic state budget cuts, Bright From the Start has initiated new programs, using federal stimulus dollars, aimed at boosting the quality of center-based care, Robinson said.

These efforts include mini-grants to child care centers and scholarship money for teachers seeking more education. The agency, along with the Georgia Department of Human Services, is providing training, professional development and financial support to 600 child care centers or family day care settings that have fallen short of licensure requirements.

In April, the agency announced the creation of an Infant Toddler Specialist Network to provide course work and training to staff from centers and other facilities that care for children up to 3 years old.

“This study really gave us the data and information we needed to move forward.” Robinson said. “Let’s just hope we will have taken some big steps forward over the next 18 months to two years.”

Check Our Sources

● Bright from the Start's report on the economic impact of the child care industry.

● More on the UNC study on the quality of child care in Georiga.

How to choose child care

How will my child be supervised?

● Are children watched at all times, including when they are sleeping?

● Are adults warm and welcoming? Do they pay individual attention to each child?

● Do adults avoid yelling, spanking, and other negative punishments?

● Are the caregiver/teacher-to-child ratios appropriate and do they follow the recommended guidelines:

One caregiver per 3 or 4 infants

One caregiver per 3 or 4 young toddlers

One caregiver per 4 to 6 older toddlers

One caregiver per 6 to 9 preschoolers

Have the adults been trained to care for children?

If a center:

● Does the director have a degree and some experience in caring for children?

● Do the teachers have at least an associate’s degree and experience in caring

for children?

If a family child care home:

● Has the provider had specific training on children’s development and experience caring for children?

● Is there always someone present who has current CPR and first aid training?

● Are the adults continuing to receive training on caring for children?

● Have the adults been trained on child abuse prevention and how to report suspected cases?

Will my child be able to grow and learn?

● For older children, are there specific areas for different kinds of play (books,blocks, puzzles, art, etc.)?

● For infants and toddlers, are there toys that “do something” when the child plays with them?

● Is the play space organized and are materials easy-to-use? Are some materials available at all times?

● Are there daily or weekly activity plans available? Will the activities help children learn?

● Do the adults engage children in conversations? Ask questions, when appropriate?

● Do the adults read to children at least twice a day or encourage them to read, if they can read?

Is this a safe and healthy place for my child?

● Do adults and children wash their hands (before eating or handling food, or after using the bathroom, changing diapers, etc.)?

● Are diaper changing surfaces sanitized after each use?

● Do all children have required immunizations?

● Are medicines labeled and out of children’s reach?

● Are adults trained to give medicines and keep records of medications?

● Are surfaces used to serve food sanitized?

● Are food and beverages served to children nutritious and are they stored, prepared and served correctly?

● Are cleaning supplies and other poisonous materials locked out of children’s reach?

● Is there a plan if a child is injured, sick or lost?

● Are first aid kits readily available?

● Is there a plan for responding to disasters (fire, flood, etc.)?

● Has a satisfactory criminal history background check been conducted on each adult present?

Is the outdoor play area a safe place for children to play?

● Is it checked each morning for hazards before children use it?

● Is the equipment the right size and type for the age of the children who use it?

● In center-based programs, is the playground area surrounded by a fence at least 4 feet tall?

● Is the equipment placed on mulch, sand, or rubber matting?

● Is the equipment in good condition?

● Is the number of children in each group limited?

Is the program set up to promote quality?

● Are there written personnel policies and job descriptions?

● Are parents and staff asked to evaluate the program?

● Are staff evaluated each year; do providers do a self-assessment?

● Is there a written annual training plan for staff professional development?

● Is the program evaluated each year by someone outside the program?

● Is the program accredited by a national organization?

Does the program work with parents?

● Will I be welcome any time my child is in care?

● Is parents’ feedback sought and used in making program improvements?

● Will I be given a copy of the program’s policies?

● Are annual conferences held with parents?

Source: National Association of Child Care Resources & Referral Agencies