How Do You Make Decisions About Child Care?

We've all heard the parable that no one nearing the end of life wishes he or she had spent more time at work. Here, at The Urban Child Institute, we have a similar parable, but we say no one nears the end of life and says: "I wish I hadn't given so much attention to my children." And yet, it's not just our attention that matters.

And yet, it's not just our attention that matters. It's also our decisions, and one of the first ones that matter is one that matters most: the one we make about child care. We've written before that a child's early home environment has long-term impact on the development of better language development, fewer behavior problems, better school readiness, and stronger cognitive development by the age of three years.

As a proxy for the home environment, child care has similar implications, and with about 40 percent of children younger than five years old in child care nationally, the right decision couldn't be more important, particularly when a national survey concluded that most child care providers are poor to fair and only 10 percent are considered high-quality care.

In Shelby County, there are over 1,000 current child providers licensed by the Tennessee Department of Human Services. Nearly 900 of these providers serve children under 5 years old. Approximately 50 percent of child care providers that serve children under 5 years old have achieved the Tennessee Department of Human Services' highest quality ranking of three stars. In addition, few child care centers are accredited by National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), which is considered the highest level of accreditation for high-quality child care. (Look here for a map of NAEYC-approved centers in Memphis.)

There was a time only a few years ago when child care decisions were given little thought. Anyone with a spare bed in the home was thought to be able to take care of a small child, because in truth, it was seen mainly as extended babysitting.

All that changed with the explosion of research about brain development and how the first few years of life affect a child's brain in ways that fundamentally shape intellectual and behavioral development. Children who are reared in nurturing, interactive environments have greater likelihoods of developing the skills that will serve them well as adults – impulse control, better reasoning skills, and the ability to cope with disappointments and reversals.

On the other hand, children from poor child care settings often arrive at kindergarten without the skill sets that they need to thrive. They are more likely to struggle and fall behind in school, they are more likely to engage in risky behavior as teenagers and become teen parents, and they are more likely to drop out of high school before they graduate.

So, where does someone start when it comes to finding quality child care? It always begins with the key ingredient – caregivers with knowledge about early child development.

Here are a few things that we recommend that you emphasize when considering a child care provider:

  • Low teacher to child ratio
  • Small group size in each room
  • Low turnover among caregivers
  • A written curriculum
  • Health and safety policies and caregivers trained in first aid, CPR, and SIDS
  • A stimulating environment filled with interesting ways to explore
  • Scheduling that keeps a child with the same caregiver
  • Welcoming attitudes toward parent involvement
  • Established communications with parents
  • Clear policies and practices dealing with discipline and conflicts
  • Touch, Talk, Read, Play philosophy and activities

To find a provider's Star Quality rating, visit the Tennessee Department of Human Services' website where you can search for providers by zip code and find detailed regulations for each type of provider. You can also search for NAEYC-accredited programs on the organization's website, and you can visit the National Association for Family Child Care site to learn more about NAFCC accreditation or search for a NAFCC-certified provider.

The Tennessee Department of Human Services provides a helpful guide that can help you choose quality child care.

More and more children are spending each day in child care, and all children deserve an environment that promotes their healthy development. Remember this: your child deserves quality child care from the beginning, and as a parent or family member, you deserve the answers to your questions when selecting child care.

After all, it's one of the most important decisions you'll ever make for your child.