Visiting and Interviewing Center-Based Child Care Providers
The term child care center evokes different images for everyone, depending on background and experience. You may imagine an enormous, rather sterile institution, where large, stern, matronly women are watching more than a hundred small children. Or you may think of the “Mom and Pop” center in the white house at the end of the street, where children are always playing in the fenced-in yard and your teenage daughter is hoping to find a part-time job next spring. Or maybe you remember a newspaper story about a center whose director said the three-year-olds in her care are learning to read and she feels it is important to start academics early.
These and many other images all reflect the real world. Child care centers come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Don’t be confused by this diversity. To make an informed choice, you need to know what features of centers are most important for promoting care of high quality.
Legal Requirements for Centers
All states have regulations governing the design and operation of child care centers. These rules are very important for safeguarding children in the centers’ care. Unlike most other countries, the United States has no national child care regulations. In fact, we are the only nation in the Western world without such national standards. What we do have is a patchwork of different regulations, all established by the state or local jurisdictions, which vary greatly from one state to the next and even within a given state.
The good news is that more and more states are realizing the need to regulate child care. These rules set only a minimum standard. They are designed simply to protect the health and safety of the children in center care but are only the starting points for developing a good program. They are no guarantee of quality. The regulations for centers in your state are available from the local or state child care resource and referral agency or the state regulatory agency in charge of child care.
One of the best national sources for unbiased information about day care center standards is the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) or one of its state or local affiliate groups. NAEYC has issued the following recommendations for group size and teacher/child ratios in child care centers:
Infants: One caregiver/teacher for every two or three children and a total group size of six to nine children.
Toddlers: One caregiver/teacher for every six children and a total group size no larger than twelve children.
Three- and four-year-old children: One caregiver/teacher for every seven children and a total group size no larger than fourteen children.
Five-year-old children: One caregiver/teacher for every eight to ten children and a total group size no larger than twenty children.
Reprinted with the permission of Cornell University. © 2008 Cornell University
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