Child Care:

Use of Standards to Ensure High Quality Care

HEHS-98-223R: Published: Jul 31, 1998. Publicly Released: Aug 4, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the use of standards to assure high quality child care, focusing on: (1) the key child care standards for centers that are critical in helping ensure high quality child care; (2) the extent to which states incorporate these standards into their own standards; and (3) other important issues that relate to child care standards and their effect on quality.

GAO noted that: (1) its analysis shows a clear consensus emerges about which standards appear to be good predictors of high quality child care; (2) these standards focus on caregiver education and training, child-to-staff ratios, group size, and safety and health; (3) except for group size, all states have standards in the key areas identified through GAO's analysis; (4) however, the extent to which state standards reflected the standards set by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and National Health and Safety Performance Standards (NHSPS) varied; (5) GAO examined state standards regarding training for three different levels of staff: center directors, master teachers, and teachers; (6) while caregiver education and training is considered one of the most critical areas for child care standards by both the literature and the experts GAO contacted, only two states incorporate NAEYC standards in this area--and only for teachers; (7) state standards regarding caregiver education and training tend to require significantly fewer years of education than the standards set by NAEYC; (8) overall, many state standards mirror the child-to-staff ratios set forth in NAEYC standards; (9) while group size was identified as a key standard, GAO found that all states do not have standards for group size or only have group size standards for certain ages of children; (10) in the safety and health area, GAO examined state standards for playground equipment, hand washing, surface and toy sanitation, and indoor and outdoor square footage; (11) state standards more often parallel NHSPS for indoor and outdoor square footage than for other standards; (12) GAO found that all states had standards in the safety and health areas identified as critical, but few states had standards as specific as NHSPS standards; (13) research shows that children, especially very young children, need enduring and consistent relationships with a caregiver; (14) a recent study has shown that a significant number of teaching staff at child care centers leave during a given year; (15) experts believe that the problem of caregiver turnover is tied directly to the lack of adequate compensation for child care teachers; and (16) inadequate compensation is also believed to complicate problems associated with requiring higher levels of training, since such training does not help a caregiver obtain higher wages.

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