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Chapter 3 Child Care Child care workers are among the lowest-paid people in America. They are paid on a par with parking lot attendants and earn even less than animal tenders.1 They are widely presumed to need little education and no particular training. Moreover, the kind of custodial care that untrained, lowwage workers can offer is widely assumed to be all that preschoolers require. That is not the case in many other Western countries. In France, for example, the presumption is that preschoolers should get more than just babysitting from their day care providers; attention should also be paid to their cognitive and social development. At around age three almost all children in France begin attending ecoles matemelles, which are part of the public school system and are staffed by professional educators, just as kindergarten is here. Younger children are cared for in creches, whose employees must also attend continuing classes in child development. But in the United States, where about 65 percent of mothers with children under the age of six are employed2 and more than 6o percent of children under the age of four are regularly cared for outside their homes,3 even custodial-type day care is often hard to come by.4 Educational programs for pre-kindergarteners are rarer still, even though studies have repeatedly shown that such programs (e.g., Head Start) increase cognitive ability and school readiness, and prevent later juvenile delinquency.5 In fact, early childhood education for poor children arguably offers the best hope for breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty.6 The first interest in child care career ladders in this country has come from groups that want a more educational approach to preschoolers and therefore want to see more child care workers trained to provide it. Their first attempts to establish career ladders have not been particularly sue- CHILD CARE 59 cessful. They have shown, however, that further development of ladders in this field will depend on how far federal and state governments decide to go toward creating a universally available child care and early-education system. There is simply no one else with the capacity to fund the significant growth or professionalization of these services. Thus the issue is essentially political: for those who want to see improvements in American child care, as well as those who want to raise the wages and advancement opportunities of the impove1ished workers who provide it, political action is the primary strategy. The U.S. Child Care "System" I have seen a big change in family child care providers. They are more involved in classes and more enthusiclStic about the profession. They see it as a profession more than a job. A CARES stipend recipient, San Mateo County, California America's preschool children are cared for in a variety of settings. Child care centers are nonresidential facilities that typically tend large groups of a dozen or more children. Family child care prmiders take care of a smaller number of children, usually five at most, in the provider's home. Together they account for almost half the child care provided to preschool children of working parents. Almost all the rest are cared for in their own homes or a relative's, by a hunily member or, in a small number ofcases, a hired nanny (figure 3.1). State and federal governments require little in the way of professional standards in any of these settings. Most states exempt paid care provided by nannies or relatives from any kind of regulation.7 Some form of licensure for family child care settings is required in forty-seven states, but this· varies widely. As the National Child Care Information Center states, "fortyone states allow some number of children to be in family child care that is not covered by licensing."8 Moreover, only ten states require any preservice training for small family child care licenses and only eleven have orientation or initial licensure training requirements.9 In all states child care centers must be licensed, but in this setting, too, the requirements mostly concern health and safety, and teacher-child ratios for different age groups.10 Only six states set standards for the preschool curriculum.U Only twenty-one states set educational standards for child care center employees , and, for the most part, they are very low.12 The National Research Council, a nonprofit institution organized by the National Academy of 6o Family child care providers 11% In-home caregivers 4% Relatives 26% CHAPTER 3 Other...


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