Published Online: July 14, 1999
Published in Print: July 14, 1999, as Early



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Child Care: Standards for child-care centers make a difference, according to a study published in this month's issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Children who attend centers that meet professional guidelines set by the American Public Health Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics score higher on school-readiness and language tests and have fewer behavior problems than children in centers that don't meet those standards, the researchers found.

The study, which focuses on 250 children, is part of a larger federally funded project, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development's ongoing Study on Early Child Care. Researchers from 14 universities are working on that project, which involves more than 1,300 families and their children in 10 cities across the country.

While states have their own child-care regulations, the researchers instead focused on the recommendations made by the professional groups because the state rules vary so widely.

The standards, set in 1992 by the two groups, address such areas as child-staff ratios, group size, and teacher training.

This particular study shows that the average school-readiness percentile score for children in classes that met none of the guidelines was 36, compared with 52 for children in classes that met all of them.

The researchers also looked at each guideline individually to determine its effect on children's development and confirmed what other studies on child-care quality have found: Children perform better when child-staff ratios are low and when teachers have more education and training.

"The failure of many states to impose stringent standards, and the failure of many centers to meet such standards, may be undermining children's development," said Kathleen McCartney, one of the authors of the study and a professor of psychology and family studies at the University of New Hampshire.

Most of the centers studied did not meet all of the guidelines. Ten percent of the infant classrooms and 34 percent of the classrooms for 3-year-old were in compliance.

The researchers also found that state regulations fall short of the recommendations. Only four states--California, Kansas, Maryland, and Massachusetts--met the recommended ratio for infants, which is one adult for three children.

"What this current study provides is a connecting piece for policymakers because it links things that can be regulated with developmental outcomes for children," Ms. McCartney said.

--Linda Jacobson

Vol. 18, Issue 42, Page 12

Web Resources
  • Read more about the NICHD's Study of Early Child Care, including the scope of the study, demographics of the subjects, and preliminary findings.

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