Cheri M. Gioe, White, Rebecca E. | 7/21/2006 12:12:25 AM
Choosing the right kind of child care is one of the most daunting tasks any parent will ever have to do. Countless emotions flood a new mother at the mere thought of letting someone else care for her tiny bundle of joy.
Although emotions seem to dominate, reality eventually sets in when you spend your last nickel on formula and diapers and know you will have to return to work.
Deciding on child care can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be, according to LSU AgCenter family development specialist Dr. Becky White.
"All parents, at one time or another, will need to find someone to help in caring for their children," White says. "Parents need the peace of mind that comes with the knowledge that their children are in quality child-care environments."
The LSU AgCenter specialist 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.
Although 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.
In addition, parents should think about their own beliefs and attitudes about education, training, child guidance, nutrition and health as they relate to their children. Select a caregiver who respects your family values.
"Most important, select a child-care provider who genuinely likes and responds in a positive way to your 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.
"A majority of parents decide on in-home care by relatives and friends," she says. "This arrangement may best suit your needs if your child is under age 3 or older than 6. 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. 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 arrangement is best for all children. Usually, it is the 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 the child-care facility they’ve chosen isn’t changing groups, group sizes and teachers frequently – just to keep ratios within licensing limits," 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 follow-up training 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 (two-year college) degrees.
Others in centers and Head Start programs have earned a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential, a national early childhood professional credentialing organization."
The CDA candidate completes an assessment process that includes 120 hours of specific training and preparation of a professional resource file. In addition, the CDA candidate must pass a parent opinion survey, a written test on child development, an oral interview and an on-site observation.
On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: www.lsuagcenter.com