As new parents embark on the pathway of parenthood, one of the most consequential choices they will make is choosing the right child care option for their children.
Cost, convenience and referrals from friends are key considerations. But not all parents can be expected to understand what “high quality” means. For many, if a program is licensed, that should mean something.
The reality in Idaho is that licensing doesn’t mean much. To be a child care provider in the state of Idaho, one has to complete an application, pay a fee, pass a background check and take a CPR and first aid class. After that, providers only need four hours of professional development training a year. In addition, there are minimal standards that a child care program must meet, which include child-to-adult ratios and health and safety inspections. For comparison, a nail technician must have a minimum of 2,000 hours of instruction prior to getting a license.
According to a recent report from Child Care Aware of America, a national child care advocacy organization, Idaho child care standards rank 52nd in the country with regard to specific benchmarks and requirements.
While there are several program benchmarks for quality in a child care program, student-teacher ratios are critical. Low ratios help improve the quality of a child’s experience and ensure teachers can offer individualized attention that is stimulating, responsive, warm and supportive.
While Idaho’s ratios do not meet quality benchmarks in any age group, several Idaho cities have opted for higher standards. Cities and municipalities throughout Idaho have the ability to set their own standards, as long as they meet the state’s (which are the lowest in the country). This gives local communities the ability to raise the bar and serve our youngest children and their families in a safer, healthier and more stimulating environment.
The Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children represents child care professionals who value high quality in early care and education. They recognize that high-quality programs translate to positive impacts on a child’s social-emotional and educational development. Quality programs help parents feel comfortable and confident knowing that their children are getting the individual attention and care they deserve.
Last year, Boise updated child care licensing to ensure compliance with state standards. Boise took the opportunity to improve the quality of child care for our local families. While slight improvements were made in a few areas, they are still far below national standards. Nevertheless, they are a step above Idaho’s state standards. Other cities such as Chubbock, Pocatello and Coeur d’Alene have also stepped up to raise their own standards.
We recognize that lowering ratios in child care classrooms can have a financial impact on the bottom line. It costs more because the programs must hire additional staff. But we also know that throughout Boise, and across the country, many high-quality programs are able to meet lower ratios and maintain viable businesses. Many lessons can be learned from these programs and resources exist to help child care programs balance the challenges of meeting increasing standards.
Families deserve to know the realities of what licensing standards actually mean, whether at the city or state levels. All parents want what is best for their child and their family.
When looking for child care, parents should ask programs how they are meeting or exceeding benchmarks, such as ratios, to best serve children in their care. As our most precious resources, our children deserve it.
Janet Davis is a member of Idaho AEYC and is co-owner/director of the Early Learning Children’s Center in Boise.