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Study Offers Strategies for Improving Family Day Care

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Community programs that offer financial and technical help to child-care providers in low-income neighborhoods can be influential in improving the quality of family day care, a new study maintains.

The study, to be released this week by the National Center for Children in Poverty at the Columbia University school of public health, says policymakers are recognizing the need for more high-quality programs to serve very young children and to move parents off welfare.

The report notes that family day care, which is provided to small groups of children in the homes of neighbors, friends, or relatives, is the most commonly used form of nonparental care for children up to age 5. It is especially attractive in low-income communities, which the report says are "poorly served'' by formal centers.

Echoing the findings of a recent study by the Families and Work Institute, the study says that the quality of family care is uneven and not well regulated. (See Education Week, April 20, 1994.)

Moreover, it says, providers in poor communities often lack training, live in decrepit housing, earn low wages, and cannot afford equipment and play materials.

"Family day care is an important form of child care, but a fragile form'' in poor communities, said Mary Larner, the director of early education and care at the center and the author of the report.

The center, with funding from the Pew Charitable Trusts, consulted child-care groups, licensing officials, and other experts to identify programs that worked well with family-care providers in low-income communities. Out of 88 programs nominated, the center selected 10 to study in depth.

'It Takes Money'

Run by a wide range of community groups, the programs helped providers get training, become licensed, and form networks with other care-givers. They also helped recruit new providers and refer parents to programs.

The efforts that were most successful offered financial and material assistance, employed people from the community, forged cooperation between child-care experts and neighborhood leaders, and made long-term investments in improving care.

"A critical message for policymakers is that it takes money for training, supports, and home improvements to become regulated,'' Ms. Larner said. She stressed, however, that states should review their regulatory policies to insure standards for family care are appropriate to home settings and highlight child well-being.

While the Families and Work Insitute study sounded an alarm about the poor quality of many family-day-care homes, she noted, the center's study shows "there's something we can do and here are a whole set of examples.''

Copies of the report, "In the Neighborhood: Programs That Strengthen Family Day Care for Low-Income Families,'' are available for $12.95 each from the National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University School of Public Health, 154 Haven Ave., New York, N.Y. 10032.

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