Quality child care/day care for families is an important aspect of daily life. At its best, child care provides positive socialization, enriches development, and improves social/familial/labor concerns. Child care/ day care can simply be described as any service involving care of others’ children, but child care is also complex in that it includes a variety of settings, activities, regulations, costs, quality, and types of providers. The three primary types of child care/day care are center-based care, in-home care, and family care.
Center-based child care outside the home is often referred to as day nursery, day care or child care center, nursery school, or crèches (French for “cribs”). These terms are often used interchangeably to identify various types of day care for children and for preschool educational programs. In most communities, religious institutions and civic groups also operate child care/day care and preschool facilities. Parents choose center-based child care because they believe that larger groups, multiple caregivers, and government inspections make programs safer for their children and make the arrangement more dependable. Parents respect the reputation of the child care program or the institution sponsoring the program. Many parents believe that more staff, space, equipment, toys, and organized activities provide a better learning environment for their children.
In-home child care is another type of child care, in which an outside caregiver comes into the family home and cares for the child. These caregivers are frequently referred to as nannies, babysitters, or au pairs (French: a young foreigner who lives with a family and does child care and light housework). Parents often choose and place trust in a provider based on recommendations from friends or professional services. With an in-home provider, parents believe that their children will be safer and more secure in their own home and that they will have more control over the kind of care their children will receive. Some parents find in-home care is a more convenient arrangement for the family and may provide more flexibility, as they can have all their children in the same location and may find that in-home care is not significantly more expensive than other forms of care.
Family child care is generally based in another person’s home and may include children from several different families. Because they want to keep their children in a home-like environment, parents who use this kind of care consider themselves lucky to have a relative, friend, or neighbor to care for their children. Parents believe that these caregivers will provide warmer, more loving care for the child than an institutional-type center and that the child will be more secure. Parents often prefer to relate to a single caregiver and believe that children are healthier, happier, and more secure in smaller groups. Many families choose family child care because they find it closer to home, less expensive, or more flexible. Many parents believe that relatives, friends, and neighbors will be more likely to share their values and thus feel more comfortable entrusting their children to them. Sometimes parents use this type of care because their schedules, budgets, or transportation problems limit other child care options.
While each of these types of child care/day care has many benefits and some detriments, the most important factor in choosing any child care is that parents feel comfortable leaving their children in a safe and quality care environment.
Child care as a cultural responsibility is as ancient as society itself. Historically, families enlisted the help of relatives or community members to care for small children much as they do today. Tribal, nomadic, and aboriginal cultures consider child care a primary and important function, where children are cared for during their youngest years by the entire group.
Modern child care services to young children and their families, while still paramount in importance, differ from the past in that they are more often provided outside the insular community.
Both the importance and the availability of outside day care increased in the late 19th and early 20th centuries due to the rising proportion of women working outside the home. Institutional child care appeared in France about 1840, and the Société des Crèches was acknowledged by the French government in 1869. Day care centers were established by the government in most European cities and industrial centers during the second half of the 19th century. Great Britain, for example, established the first centers in 1860, and in the United States, these institutions appeared by the 1920s.
By the early 1990s, women made up a significant portion of the workforce worldwide. In East Asia more than 60% of women were working, and in Western Europe and the United States, nearly 50% of women were employed. Without suitable child care arrangements, many of these women would be forced to stay home and forego working.
Successful child rearing is crucial to a healthy society. If children thrive in the earliest years, there is evidence that they become more valuable contributors to society. The pressure of providing quality child care is a universal challenge not only to the family, but to governments as well. To ameliorate these challenges, many developed countries provide infant care and preschool programs as policy. However, there is a good deal of variation across countries in the types of policies that governments use to support child care to families.
In Europe, child care is often provided by the state or by facilities licensed and subsidized by the state. For example, France and Italy include early child care in the regular public school system, Hungary has more than 3,000 state-operated day care facilities, and in Sweden, almost 60% of preschool children are enrolled in state-run child care institutions.
Countries such as Italy and Spain have low female employment rates and a low availability of child care. Countries such as Sweden, Denmark, and Finland have high female employment rates and provide wide access to child care facilities. In countries such as Germany and Austria, where child care services are moderately available, women are more likely to work part-time.
The United States is one of the few industrialized nations that does not have a comprehensive government-funded child care policy. In recent years, the federal government has passed legislation designed to help parents ease the burden of child care costs. This legislation includes allowing workers to set aside part of their income, tax free, to pay for child care; issuance of a child and dependent care tax credit; and state funding that can be used for day care facilities.
Quality, Licensing, And Regulations
High-quality child care is the ideal for most societies. How a system achieves that ideal is through licensing and regulations. The goal of licensing is to ensure the safety and developmental well-being of children while in out-of-home care.
In the United States, many individual states follow the licensing curriculum developed by the National Association for Regulatory Administration. The curriculum was designed to ensure that all professionals and paraprofessionals serving infants, toddlers, and their families are adequately trained and provides a baseline of quality below which it is illegal to operate.
In most states, and in Europe, licensed child care/ day care facilities require up-to-date immunizations for entrance. These immunizations help to prevent outbreaks of illness since children in child care/day care typically have more severe infectious illnesses than children cared for in the home. Reviewing and monitoring these facilities are essential to ensure compliance.
Current child care regulations are designed to protect children from harm and are key predictors of positive outcomes of both the children and the centers. Many states do not regulate care provided by relatives, friends, and neighbors. A few states require these informal providers to be screened through a criminal history check and/or child abuse and neglect clearance. Several states require minimal training in health and safety. Despite these efforts, unlicensed day care centers continue to operate.
There remains a need for regulations and licensing of child care services that meet the individual needs of children and of their parents. These regulations must be enforced with the goal of ever better outcomes for children and families.
A great deal of research has been focused on the effects of care on children. There are numerous studies addressing social and emotional development of children in child care/day care settings. In general, it has been found that having young children in quality care environments is beneficial. Both language proficiency and cognitive function have been found to improve among children who attend day care centers.
Low child-to-staff ratios and staff education have been found to be major factors in positive outcomes in day care centers. Children in day care settings who had better educated teachers recorded higher measures of school readiness and language skills. In addition, Susanna Loeb, PhD, of Stanford University reports that children in day care centers scored better on a variety of tests compared with children who went to family child care homes or who were left with friends or relatives while their mothers worked.
Child care is with us today and will continue to be with us throughout time. Most countries and world organizations are placing child care issues near the tops of their priority lists. The continued rise in population and, subsequently, women in the labor force are compelling countries to recognize the value of quality early child care. There is pressure on governments for new regulations, facility expansion, quality improvement, and affordable, universal access to child care for all families. The impetus for a better solution to child care needs will continue in all countries, despite variations in approach.
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