Research on Quality in Infant-Toddler Programs
Concern about the quality of infant-toddler care programs has grown recently in response to two factors. The first is the need for infant-toddler care by employed parents. By 1997, a nationally representative study (Ehrle, Adams, & Tout, 2001) documented that 73% of children under 3 years regularly spent time in nonparental care. The second factor is the research that emphasizes the importance of brain development in the early years. Yet the National Child Care Staffing Study (NCCSS) (Whitebook, Howes, & Phillips, 1990) of 227 infant and preschool centers in five major cities reported that the quality of care was barely adequate. The Cost, Quality, and Outcomes Study Team (1995, p. 40) reported for 400 centers that "most child care--especially for infants and toddlers--is mediocre" (see also NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2002). This Digest introduces some of the many issues related to the quality of infant-toddler care.†
Measuring the Quality of Care
The quality in infant-toddler programs is measured by examining structural variables, such as space, number of babies per caregiver, or group size, and by examining process variables, such as the richness of "turn-taking-talk" and the amount of warmth and cuddling between caregivers and babies. Fenichel and colleagues (1999), summarizing strategies synthesized from discussions at the National Leadership Forum on Quality Care for Infants and Toddlers in 1998, identified eight aspects of high-quality infant care: (1) health and safety; (2) small groups of 3 to 4 infants per caregiver; (3) assigning each baby to a primary caregiver; (4) ensuring continuity of care with the same provider over time; (5) caregiver responsivity to infant signals; (6) meeting each infant's needs in group care with a focus on individual learning style and temperament; (7) cultural and linguistic sensitivity; and (8) provision of a physical environment with variety, stimulation, and planned activities.†
The process variables that have received the most attention in research to date involve the caregiver, including the relationships among turnover, training, and teacher-child interactions. The NCCSS study reported an average annual caregiver turnover rate of 41% across participating centers (Whitebook, Howes, & Phillips, 1990). In addition, less than one-fifth of teachers and assistants had attended two workshops or conferences during the year. Yet research has shown that the number of training workshops and courses in child development attended by teachers is significantly more likely to account for higher-quality interactions between teachers and young children than the number of years that center providers have worked in child care (Honig & Hirallal, 1998). In licensed child care homes with moderate group sizes (averaging around six children), caregiver training or education was a better predictor of child care quality than child-to-adult ratios. Caregivers with training were less detached with the children (Clarke-Stewart et al., 2002). In this research, none of the structural characteristics predicted caregiver sensitivity.†
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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