Child Care Comparison
CHILD CARE COMPARISON ACROSS STATES
This paper will attempt to document the differences in childcare arrangements across several different states. While parents work, individuals other than the parents care for a large majority of preschool children. This fact is true nationally and in every state examined here, so it emphasizes the importance of childcare in the lives of American families. It is vitally important for policymakers to pay close attention to the experiences of children while they are in childcare.
The states selected for this research are West Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, and New York. While there are many similarities among the four states, there are also some glaring differences. In order to present the comparison information in a concise logical order, each of the assignment criteria will be arranged in a list format.
1. Licensure requirements of day care centers. All four states have requirements that must be met prior to receiving a license to operate. The building to be used has to pass inspection for size, structural integrity, fire safety, and sanitation availability. While each state has other requirements that must be met, New York has much more stringent requirements than any of the other three. In order to obtain a license to operate a childcare center in New York an operator must submit many forms. Some of which are: description of their program, evacuation plans, health care plans, sample menus, criminal background checks of all employees, a copy of the procedures to ensure child safety, a copy of the curriculum, and a plan to protect the children from poisonous plants. The state ranking for licensure requirements is as follows from best to worst: New York, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Ohio.
2. Licensure requirements respective of day care center staff. The variations in this category vary considerably. In West Virginia, an operator need only be twenty-one years of age and have a high school diploma plus nine credit hours of college classes in childhood development or other related field. New York, on the other hand, requires that an administrator have a Bachelor’s degree including, or in addition to, twelve credit hours in Child Development or a related field, plus one year teaching experience and one year of supervisory experience. Ohio and North Carolina require only and Associate’s degree with at least twelve credit hours in child development or early childhood. State ranking is New York, North Carolina, Ohio, then West Virginia.
3. Child to caregiver ratios. West Virginia has the best staff to child ratio of the four states examined. Some points are lost, however, because the ratio is not regulated by the state. That leaves the door open for abuse of the system. West Virginia also does not accept children six weeks of age and the other states do. State ranking is West Virginia, New York, Ohio, then North Carolina.
4. Space and equipment requirements. There was not an appreciable difference between the states in this category. 25 sq. ft. per child indoors and 75 sq. ft. per child outdoors is pretty much a standard amount. The requirements for equipment are basically the same also. The wording on the licensure requirements is broad and generic and just requests developmentally appropriate items. All four states rank equally in this category.
5. Curriculum requirements. Here again the wording is broad and generic for three of the four states. New York has the most detailed stated program requirements. A center must establish a planned program, which is age appropriate and encourages development in cognitive, social, emotional, physical, and language skills. The children must be provided with a program of self-initiated, group-initiated, and staff-initiated activities, which are intellectually stimulating and foster self-reliance and social responsibility. Each classroom must be arranged to allow children to actively use toys and equipment while interacting with peers and adults, and the environment must be designed to allow a child to choose between quiet activities and active play. North Carolina, West Virginia and Ohio all tie in second place on this one.
6. Health and safety requirements. All four states have safety requirements that are pretty strict on paper. The issue is whether or not these requirements are strictly enforced. One wonders if the child’s welfare is always a top priority. New York has the most detailed health requirement regulations of the four. It addresses the health history of both the children and the staff who work with them. Immunization records of all must be kept up to date, and periodic physicals for the staff are mandatory.
7. Transportation. Although each of the states examined have stated rules for transporting children from point A to point B, Ohio takes the lead on this one. It amazes me that they manage to take children anywhere because the vehicle could be filled to capacity with the items that the staff is required to take along. They must take a signed permission slip from the parents, the health record of each child, an emergency transportation and medical treatment authorization, a first aid box, and a person trained in first aid and CPR. Actually, I suppose these are very appropriate precautions to take.
8. Child records. Each of the four states require a medical history for each child that includes their immunization record, any disabilities or special needs they may have, their personality traits, their likes and dislikes, their food preferences, and scheduled rest times. In addition, the parent’s address and phone numbers are needed, as well as emergency contact numbers. The child’s attendance record is kept and their developmental milestones are noted. These records are needed for licensure renewal as well as for the welfare of the child.
9. Discipline. This policy seems to be universal in intent. There is to be no corporal punishment or any unusual punishment such as punching, pinching, shaking, biting, placing hot or inedible items in a child’s mouth, or striking a child with the hand or any other object. It is forbidden to use mental or emotional punishment, to chemically or physically restrain a child, withhold or force meals, rest, or toileting, or to confine a child in an enclosed space. Timeouts may be used in addition to positive approaches to discipline, but must be age appropriate and of short duration. The child must be in visual sight of an adult at all times. All four states have the same basic discipline policy, although the wording may be slightly different for each.
10. Rating system. Of the four states evaluated, only North Carolina has a rating system for their child care centers. A center may earn one star if they meet the state’s minimal standards, or up to four stars if they exceed those standards.
11. Parental rights. Each of the states reviewed has open door policies for parents. Parents can visit the centers unannounced at any time during the operating hours, and may not be restricted from any area for their inspection. The only requirement is that they make their presence known to the staff upon their arrival. I wonder how many parents actually take advantage of this policy.
I personally used a childcare center for my oldest son for a short time many years ago. For my last two sons, I chose to use a caregiver in my own home or in the home of my chosen caregiver. I did this because when the boys were very young, I chose not to return to work until they were preschool age. This was a financial burden for the family, so I provided care for three other small children in my home in order to earn extra income. This arrangement worked out well for both myself and the parents of the other children. The group was active, but manageable. I seemed to be potty training someone all the time.
Who cares for the children is a politically charged question in the United States. The chronic lack of affordable, licensed, high-quality childcare is an ongoing problem in our country today. Perhaps we should examine the child care policies of Denmark and incorporate some of those policies into our own system.
Denmark has a long tradition of public family support that results in social policies being aimed at making the right to child care universal. They have a comprehensive national child care policy as well as a very liberal paid maternity leave that may be taken by one or both parents. This leave may be extended to fifty-two weeks with an employer’s agreement. Because day-care is a subsidized by the government, each child is guaranteed a slot in a day care center, with single parents frequently receiving priority placement. The parents may choose between center-based or home-based care for their child.
All day care centers are run by certified teachers and are assisted by paraprofessionals. Both teachers and assistants are unionized and receive a very handsome wage even by U.S. standards. They receive five weeks of paid vacation a year and work between thirty and thirty-seven hours each week. The average staff to child ratio for children between the ages of six months and three years is one adult to 2.7 children, and the staff usually works in teams of one teacher and two assistants. For children from three to six years, the average ratio is one adult to 5.5 children. The staff again works in teams of one certified teacher with one assistant.
Philosophically, these centers promote play and social interactions for the younger children, and encourage responsibility on the part of the older children with stability and continuity as the norm as these children may stay in the same center until early adolescence. Fees are standardized and set on a sliding scale, with tuition waived for the lowest income families.
While the structure, organization, and public financing of the system are impressive, so is the quality of care provided. All day care centers provide large carriages, which holds up to four children, and that is their main mode of transportation. Even in the harsh weather of the winter, there is no decrease in activity, as exercise and fresh air are considered an essential part of Danish childcare at all ages. The curriculum provides flexible, play-based, developmental early education, with a strong focus on child-centered, child-initiated learning. Field trips take place frequently to places such as monuments, museums, libraries, parks, and theaters. Independence is encouraged and the teachers have strong negative feelings about excluding a child for any reason. Time outs are an unthinkable practice. The teachers feel that they must change how they are and how they interact with the child to correct the problems. They also feel that a close partnership with the pare!
nts is vital to their success. If a child is considered "at risk", the teachers, parents, social worker, and psychologist assigned to that center explore all avenues available to alleviate the problem. Play is considered scared, and is never interrupted by the teachers in contrast to the regimented and highly structured style of the child care centers in this country. The Danish child care system is very impressive in its attitude toward children and their needs, but something else I found to be a worthwhile part of their system is the fact that the teachers are respected and well paid. Perhaps our policy makers would find a fact-finding mission to Denmark beneficial.