The end of summer and return to fall schedules brings lots of challenges to Georgia families, especially those trying to find decent child care. It’s hard.
Today, more than 65 percent of families statewide use some form of child care, and the number grows annually — particularly around this time of year when more parents struggle with the demands of working outside the home.
More families with younger kids are seeking child care, too. More than 470,000 of Georgia’s children under 6 are currently in the care of someone other than their parents for as much as 10 hours a day.
The demand for quality child care is obvious. So where’s the corresponding investment and oversight? This year, Georgia was ranked 49th in the U.S. by the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies because of weak regulations for child care centers.
One of the most glaring problems is that day care providers aren’t required to be adequately trained on the developmental and educational needs of the young children in their care.
That brings down the overall level of quality and puts kids at risk.
A true quality child care program is one where teachers genuinely understand how kids learn — especially young ones. By age 3, 85 percent of a child’s brain is hardwired, setting the groundwork for all future learning.
Birth to age 5 is when children learn to relate to others, develop their emotions and get ready to conquer the three Rs. There are no do-overs.
Fortunately, the state of Georgia seems to understand this. Georgia would for the first time require that directors and lead teachers in child care centers throughout the state have a minimal level of formal training, under a plan proposed by Bright from The Start Commissioner Holly Robinson at the Department of Early Care and Learning.
Currently, lead teachers in day care centers need only be 18 years old and possess a high school diploma to care for children.
Higher standards is an idea long overdue, and any real hope of getting Georgia out of the child-care basement rests in part on making this happen.
It’s an important first step toward ultimately addressing other related needs, such as a statewide compensation system for providers — one that rewards performance and offers incentives for their professional development.
Right now, the state is making final decisions about whether to adopt the proposed rules. Strong public support will help assure that happens.
Now is the time for citizens to weigh in with the governor and local legislators. We hope many will, for the sake of our kids.
Stronger standards won’t solve all of Georgia’s child care problems. But it’s a start.
Pat Willis is executive director of VOICES for Georgia’s Children, a statewide organization that supports research, communication and advocacy for children’s and family’s issues.
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