Rebecca White, Merrill, Thomas A.
A variety of factors should be considered when parents are attempting to find quality child care for their offspring, says LSU AgCenter specialist Dr. Becky White.
"All parents, at one time or another, need to find someone to help in caring for their children," White says, adding, "Parents need the peace of mind that comes with the knowledge that their children are in quality child-care environments."
The LSU AgCenter specialists stresses the critical importance of selecting quality child-care arrangements, since research shows the quality of child care affects the quality of life for parents and young children. "The social and mental development of children is fostered by contact with caring adults and other young children," White stresses.
While cost and convenience are important considerations in selecting care, parents should also consider what is the best child-care arrangement based upon their children’s ages, abilities, interests and personalities, the LSU AgCenter specialist says.
In addition, parents should think about their own beliefs and attitudes about education, training, child guidance, nutrition and health – as those relate to their children – and a caregiver should be selected that respects your family values, White says.
"Most important, parents will want to select a child-care provider who genuinely likes and responds in a positive way to their children," White emphasizes.
Research studies conducted in different child-care settings can help parents make informed decisions about child-care arrangements for their children, according to White.
"In-home care by relatives and friends is selected by a majority of parents," she says, adding, "This arrangement may best suit your needs if your child is under age three or older than six. But research indicates that being licensed as a center or home is more important to quality child care than being related to the child."
White says the research shows licensing or regulations have a stronger impact on quality child care than any other factor.
"Relatives and friends may not really wish to take care of the child. They may just be trying to help out a working mother," White says, adding, "In such a case, the quality of care is lower and possibly even harmful to a child’s development."
Research also indicates that different arrangements have different effects on different children. The variety of different types of child-care arrangements include family child-care homes, child-care centers, Head Start, child-care sitters and nannies.
"It is critical that parents find the arrangement that is best suited to their child or children," White says. "Even more, parents need to keep in mind that no one type of arrangement is best for all children. Usually, it is quality of care that matters, not the type of care."
Although generalizations about the type of care are difficult to make, the LSU AgCenter specialist says it is clear that smaller group sizes work best for children.
"Parents should select arrangements that place their children among a small number of children with a few adults," she says.
In Louisiana, licensing and registration standards determine maximum group size in child-care centers and family day homes.
"Parents will want to make sure their children are not changing groups, teachers and group size frequently – just to keep ratios within licensing limits at a child-care center," the LSU AgCenter expert cautions. "Excessive changing of caregivers is stressful for children and affects their development negatively."
White also says studies show that child-care providers who have received training in child development and care do a much better job.
"Parents may wish to ask potential caregivers about their educational background in child development and any training they participate in – to determine how knowledgeable they are about children’s growth and development," the LSU AgCenter specialist advises. "Some caregivers and early childhood educators have college degrees or associate degrees (two-year college program). And some caregivers in centers and Head Start programs have earned a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential, a national early childhood professional credentialing organization."
The Child Development Associate candidate completes a CDA assessment process that includes 120 hours of specific training and preparation of a professional resource file. In addition, the Child Development Associate candidate must pass a parent opinion survey, a written test on child development, an oral interview and an on-site observation.
The LSU AgCenter’s "Be Child Care Aware!" educational program is designed to educate parents and child-care providers about quality child care. It is funded, in part, through a contract with the Louisiana Department of Social Services’ Office of Family Support.