Expert Weighs In on What Makes Good Child Care
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
And as we mentioned, middle-income families often bear the most burden not just campaigning for quality care but finding it. I discussed that issue with Jerlean Daniel, deputy executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children in Washington, D.C. I began our conversation by asking what a quality child care center looks like.
Ms. JERLEAN DANIEL (Deputy Executive Director, National Association for the Education of Young Children): It's staffed by teaching personnel who have child specific knowledge, preferably early childhood education, child development. They have associate degrees or bachelor's degrees, and they're really excited about working with and teaching young children.
CHIDEYA: Do you think that there is enough quality child care in America or is there a vacuum?
Ms. DANIEL: Ah, we have nowhere near enough quality childcare. Part of that has to do with the fact that, even though people are talking a lot about early childhood education these days and for the last several years, we haven't really put the kind of money into it that will allow the field to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers.
CHIDEYA: Now the average cost of formal child care is $4,600 a year, a little bit more than that. And that's according to the Center for Policy Analysis and Research. Mothers can pay about 9 percent of their income on formal day care on average. So what kind of issues do low-income families in particular face, as well as middle-income families, when it comes to finding people who can really take care of their kids safely and give them a head start in life?
Ms. DANIEL: Well, in many instances, low-income families are in slightly better shape than middle-income families.
CHIDEYA: That's interesting.
Ms. DANIEL: Yeah. I say this because in many states they have funds available. Sometimes it's the state's own money. Sometimes it's a mix of state and federal money. They have that kind of money to subsidize child care for low-income families.
Now, the tug of war with government funding is, do you fund so that you cover, for example, all the two and three-year-olds in your state, or do you fund so that what you are funding is of the highest quality. In other words, how often do you spread the money?
And so that's an issue for government, but in every state they've got some money to subsidize low-income families. The more money you make, the less the subsidy you're eligible for. And clearly, if you're solidly middle class, there isn't that kind of money to subsidize child care.
CHIDEYA: So it's really a lot of this is a middle class crunch, it sounds like. Because people who are wealthy obviously have some financial options, people who are truly low-income have some non-profit or governmental options.
Ms. DANIEL: That's true. But for everybody, there's not quite enough of it. And particularly the younger the child - there's not enough infant-toddler care. And that's the kind of care that requires fewer children to an adult, and so therefore it's costly to run, and so we have a number of challenges related to supply and demand.
CHIDEYA: You break this down by race. It seems that Latino and African-American families paid the greatest proportion of household income on child care. What does that do to the disparities that might already exist in terms of how people earn in this country and how people spend in this country based on race?
Ms. DANIEL: You're right. But I think the thing you have to factor into this equation that we haven't talked about yet is that many people either prefer or do it because that's what they can afford. Many of those families use family members, neighbors, friends, some people call it kith and kin care, for their children. And so in that way you know, families sometimes charge each other less or they do each other favors, that kind of thing.
CHIDEYA: We just talked to a family - or the mother in a family where, although they have a good set of income, they had a lot of problems, potentially race-based, dealing with getting help. And there are some racial aspects to how even wealthier African-Americans in particular seem to be able to find help.
So what you're talking about ended up being what manifested for them. They were put in a position where they had to turn to family. Now, obviously there is nothing wrong with using family, but does that put a strain sometimes within family?
Ms. DANIEL: It can because, you know, we talk about we're going through a period where many more grandmothers, for example, are caring for children. And sometimes, you know, if grandma is in her seventies and you've got a feisty little toddler that can be quite taxing on families to try to keep that going in a consistent kind of way.
As to issues of racial bias and whether or not people can find care based on some racial issues, I'd be the last to deny that there is not discrimination out there. I know there clearly is. But what I would say to you, as an African-American myself, when I was looking for care for my children one of the things I always listened carefully for was, are these people who can be kind and generous and giving to everybody or is there hesitation in the voice? How do I feel in terms of the cultural, racial piece?
And so that did certainly factor into what I was looking for. In the area of center-based care, people go in and they look to see, do I see anybody like myself and my children here? Might we be the only ones? And what does that mean in terms of the pattern of friendships that a child is going to have? Do they get a chance to know some of everybody?
At the National Association for the Education of Young Children where I am the deputy executive director, we have a system of center-based accreditation. And one of the standards with an assortment of criteria that go with that talk about involvement with families and being responsive and receptive to the needs of families across incomes, across cultures, across races. And it's something that, you know, we certainly hoped to encourage among providers of child care.
CHIDEYA: I'm going to leave you with this. How does good care giving for children affect not only the children, not only the families, but entire communities?
Ms. DANIEL: Oh. Well, I think that when we care for our young - and I'm going to say care for and educate because when children are in that early childhood range of birth through eight, and particularly the younger the more so this is true - you can't separate caring and educating. They are one package. And children learn exponentially by how they are treated.
And it matters then in terms of how they then approach the world. Do they feel viable, treasured? Do people think they are smart and can-do people? All of that is conveyed in the care that we give them and what they learn about the world through us.
And so the better job we do of that, all of us as adults partnering together - parents and professionals and community folks - when we partner together, we are building a community that's going to last for years and years and years. It's well worth the energy, resources and effort.
CHIDEYA: Well, Ms. Daniel, thank you so much.
Ms. DANIEL: Thank you.
CHIDEYA: Jerlean Daniel is deputy executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children in Washington, D.C.
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CHIDEYA: Just ahead, the attorney general says federal judges shouldn't have a say on national security cases, and our Political Corner discusses African-Americans who've run for president.
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