DAY CARE HEADLINES
The news frequently focuses on the terrible things that can happen to children in child care centers. After each one airs, we have calls from parents who are disturbed and upset to think something like this could happen … maybe even to their child. I would like to believe that all these reports are false and unjust, but we all know that the world is not perfect, not all child care centers are good.
It is then that I reflect on how lucky TTLC is to be operating in Illinois rather than in a number of other states. Each state sets the rules for its child care centers; who must have a license; what will be required to get that license; and how license requirements will be enforced. In 1999 Illinois spent 10% of their federal funds to promote the enhancement of child care programs and was ranked by “Working Mother” magazine (8/99) as one of the top 10 of 50 states in terms of quality of care, safety, availability, and commitment. Higher standards make providing care at an affordable price more of a challenge, but it also makes quality care more available to you. According to researchers (BabyTalk, Aug 98), “children in high quality care, have fewer behavioral problems like whining, hostility and disobedience than children in low quality centers. . . and on tests of school readiness and language development, kids in high-quality care scored better than kids in medium- to low- quality care– higher even than the children of stay-at-home moms. .
One important aspect of Illinois licensing is that few centers are exempt from licensing and supervision by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Only if a center uses a curriculum approved by the State Board of Education and is under the supervision of the board of a private/religious school or government agency are they exempt from licensing by DCFS. In many other states there are many exemptions, including any type of religious affiliation (even the mail-order kind).
The strictness of the standards is another point of variance between states. In many states not even a high school diploma is required for child care employees. Illinois requires, for teachers and directors, a two year degree (or the equivalent) with 6-18 semester hours of classes in Early Childhood Development. The National Day Care Study confirms that requirements such as these are associated with improvements in children’s development, test scores, and in social interactions. The number of children an adult is expected to care for, will also affect quality. In Idaho, one adult may be assigned as many as 12 infants! Illinois conforms to the recommendations of the National Association for The Education of Young Children with a ratio of one adult to four infants. Only three states have smaller ratios. The number of three and four year old children with one adult is 20 in Florida, 18 in Texas, and only 10 in Illinois. Again, only four states have lower ratios. In regards to nutrition, there are specific menu requirements in Illinois, but in California, children may bring a sack lunch. In addition to DCFS regulations, centers in Illinois must also meet fire code, with regular inspections from the State Fire Marshall, and health standards monitored by the Department of Public Health.
High standards are nice, but of no use if they are not enforced. Your best protection, of course, is a center (like TTLC) that is committed enough to meet standards regardless of enforcement. In Illinois, conforming to the standards is not left to the center’s conscience. A license is issued for three years. During a license inspection, not only is the program observed and the building and the equipment inspected, but the records of each child and staff members are scrutinized. This inspection takes the better part of a day, resulting in a 30 page report. DCFS is also mandated to provide announced and unannounced monitoring visits yearly.
So, the next time you see one of these disturbing programs on TV, you can rest a little easier knowing that TTLC and the state of Illinois work together to keep your child from becoming the subject of a report on the 6 o’clock news.