Most child-care centers fail to meet the health, safety and learning needs of children in addition to robbing them of warm relationships, according to a new study.
The 2-year study by researchers at four universities was formally released today.
It found that most child care is mediocre and “sufficiently poor to interfere with children’s emotional and intellectual development.”
Health and safety are threatened at one out of eight centers and only one in seven provides the quality of care necessary to encourage proper development.
The findings come as Congress debates whether to require millions of single mothers on welfare to work, which would dramatically increase the need for child care at the same time federal funding for such care may be reduced.
The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Colorado at Denver, the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of North Carolina, and Yale University.
The study, entitled “Cost, Quality and Child Outcomes in Child Care Centers,” is one of a handful of comprehensive studies of day care. It follows by less than a year a study by the New York-based Families and Work Institute that found comparably poor levels of care available in “family day care,” in which children are cared for in another person’s home rather than a center.
Together, the studies paint a bleak picture of child care, a subject of intense interest in this country, where more than half of mothers of young children are employed.
“It is a wake-up call,” said Barbara Willer, spokeswoman for the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) here. “As a nation we have not paid enough attention to the daily environment of 5 million of our preschool children.”
Among employed mothers with children under age 5, 33 percent use family day care, 28 percent use daycare centers, 28 percent juggle their schedules so children can be cared for by the parents, and 10 percent arrange for care in their own homes with a nanny.
The new study found that parents greatly overestimate the quality of care their children are receiving.
Ninety percent of parents surveyed as part of the study rated their children’s programs as very good, while trained observers found that most of the same centers were poor to mediocre.
“Parents need to be much better informed consumers,” said Suzanne Helburn, an economist at the University of Colorado and principal investigator on the study. “They need to spend as much time looking for child care as buying a new car.”
Among the most troubling findings, the study said, was the relatively lower quality of care for the youngest children.
“Babies in poor-quality rooms are vulnerable to more illness because basic sanitary conditions are not met for diapering and feeding; are endangered because of safety problems that exist in the room; miss warm, supportive relationships with adults; and lose out on learning because they lack the books and toys required for physical and intellectual growth,” the report said.
The researchers studied 400 daycare centers, evenly divided between for-profit and non-profit programs, in California, Colorado, Connecticut and North Carolina.
All of the centers were statelicensed. A total of 228 infant-toddler classrooms and 521 preschool classrooms was studied.
Financed by several foundations, the research involved classroom observation, individual assessments of 826 children, on-site interviews with center directors, and questionnaires by center staff, directors, teachers and parents.
The report found that the quality of care is primarily related to higher staff-to-child ratios, staff education, and the administrators’ prior experience. Good quality services cost more than mediocre care - but not a lot more.
The centers studied charged an average full-time monthly fee of $450.80 for infants and $371.50 for preschoolers.
Researchers found a wide variation among state licensing requirements and said there were fewer poorquality centers in states with the most demanding standards.
Researchers used as their standards in the study those issued by the NAEYC, which recommends staffing ratios of one adult for every three to four infants, one adult for four or five 2-year-olds and one adult for eight to 10 4-year-olds.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with story: The good places WASHINGTON The new study on day care found that good-quality care was more likely in centers with: High staff-child ratios; High staff education; Experienced managers; Higher teacher wages; Lower teacher turnover. - Washington Post