WASHINGTON, DC - A new state report card released today reveals that states fall far short of meeting basic requirements needed to protect the health and safety of children in child care, and to promote their school readiness. Out of 150 possible points, the average state score was only 70 points.
The report card ranks every state (including the District of Columbia) on 15 basic criteria related to their current child care center standards and oversight. It also ranks the Department of Defense (DoD), which has its own child care system. Compiled by the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) and released during its annual National Policy Symposium, We Can Do Better: NACCRRA's Ranking of State Child Care Center Standards and Oversight points toward an urgent need in every state to improve standards and oversight of child care centers.
Only two states (Illinois and Nevada) require a full background check of child care staff. Only eight states (plus the DoD) address all 10 basic health and safety benchmarks, such as fire drills, administration of medication, prevention of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, diapering and hand-washing, and safe playground surfaces. Four states either allow or do not specifically prohibit corporal punishment. Only three states (plus the DoD) conduct quarterly inspections of child care centers; eight do not even conduct inspections annually. And, 21 states have no minimum educational requirement for child care teachers.
States were scored based on a point system of 100 points for child care standards and 50 for oversight, for a total overall possible score of 150 points. The DoD received the highest score (117 points). The next highest score, only 90 points, was received by Illinois and New York. Idaho scored the lowest, receiving 15 points.
Aside from the DoD, the states that ranked within the top ten best overall - scoring from 90 to 82 points respectively - are Illinois, New York, Maryland, Washington, Oklahoma, Michigan, North Dakota, Tennessee, Minnesota, and Vermont. The weakest ten overall - scoring from 15 to 58 points respectively - are Idaho, Louisiana, Nebraska, Kentucky, California, Kansas, New Mexico, Utah, Maine, and New Hampshire. The DoD child care system stands alone as a model for the states, not only ranking first, but also standing as the only entity scoring within the top 10 for both standards and oversight.
"The results of this report card should be a wake-up call to policy-makers," says Linda K. Smith, Executive Director of NACCRRA. "State child care standards and oversight in this nation are not protecting our children and are not preparing them for success in school. With the well-being of nearly 12 million children under age 5 at stake, states need to make sure that children are safe and learning in child care. In addition, the federal government needs to hold the states more accountable for the nearly $11 billion in federal funds that they use for child care."
Because 90 percent of a child's brain develops by age 5, the quality of care a child receives during his or her early years can have a lifelong effect. With children of working mothers spending an average of 36 hours each week in some type of child care setting, the quality of care is paramount.
The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) is the primary federal funding source for child care in the United States. Under the block grant, minimum health and safety requirements for states are extremely broad. The result, as this report card reveals, is that most state standards are weak in many basic areas.
To improve the quality of child care, NACCRRA is calling on Congress to strengthen CCDBG to better ensure that children are safe and learning while in child care. Included in NACCRRA's recommendations to Congress are requirements for background checks with fingerprint checks for all paid child care workers, basic training of workers before caring for children, and unannounced quarterly inspections to ensure compliance with state standards. In addition, NACCRRA calls on states to strengthen their standards by addressing such issues as reducing staff-to-child ratios, requiring more extensive training and education of the workforce, and requiring that child care centers meet 10 basic health and safety standards and allow open access to parents.
According to a national poll conducted by NACCRRA, the overwhelming majority of parents logically assume that standards are in place in child care programs to ensure that their children are safe and learning. Parents can help make such requirements a reality by letting their Governors know that the current quality of child care is not acceptable and that states can and must do better.
Parents can also help ensure that their child care program is high-quality by visiting NACCRRA's website, www.naccrra.org. Here, parents can download informational resources such as Is This the Right Place for My Child?, a booklet that helps them assess the quality of child care programs. Parents can also contact their local Child Care Resource & Referral agency, which they can find online at www.childcareaware.org, for additional resources.
The information used to score each state in NACCRRA's report card was obtained from the recent 2005 Child Care Licensing Study: Final Report, developed by the National Association for Regulatory Administration and the National Child Care Information and Technical Assistance Center (NCCIC), as well as NCCIC's database on child care systems and regulations. To download the state report card - We Can Do Better: NACCRRA's Ranking of State Child Care Center Standards and Oversight - visit www.naccrra.org.