Child-adult ratios are not nearly as important in family child-care settings as they are in center-based programs. Rather, it’s the provider’s level of education and training that counts the most in home-based programs, according to a pair of reports in the spring issue of the Early Childhood Research Quarterly.
Educational level was also found to be more important than a provider’s years of experience in the early-childhood field.
“The policy implications of these results suggest as parents and policymakers make decisions about child-care homes they should rely more heavily on characteristics such as licensing and caregiver education and training than on child-adult ratios,” write the authors of one of the papers. They are: Margaret Burchinal, a senior scientist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Carollee Howes, an education professor at the University of California, Los Angeles; and Susan J. Kontos, a professor of child development and family studies at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.
The results also “suggest that we should be careful in generalizing fairly robust findings from one setting like the child-care centers to another setting like child-care homes,” they write.
In “Structural Predictors of Child Care Quality in Child Care Homes,” the three researchers analyze two previous studies involving more than 300 child-care homes. The studies included data on whether the provider was sensitive toward the children or appeared detached.
The authors found that even though caregivers with more education and training provided higher-quality care, the level of quality did drop when the providers were caring for more infants.
“Infants and toddlers require more time for basic caregiving than preschoolers, and therefore, it is more difficult to find time to interact with all children when there are more babies present,” the authors note.
In their conclusions, the authors also warn that just because ratios are not related to quality in family child-care homes doesn’t mean that programs with large groups of children provide high-quality care. In the studies they observed, the most children in the care of one adult was 13, and almost all the homes in the study had ratios of 6-to-1 or smaller.
“Ratios are kind of a slippery variable when you’re studying family child care,” said Marilou Hyson, a deputy executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the Washington-based organization that publishes the research journal.
She added that providers who are caring for only a few children might not offer high-quality care because they see it as a temporary means of making money. Providers caring for larger groups, however, can be committed to the profession.
Finally, the authors note that because one of the data sets they analyzed was drawn completely from California, the results might not represent child-care homes nationally.
In the second paper, “Do Regulable Features of Child Care Homes Affect Children’s Development,” five researchers, including Ms. Burchinal and K. Allison Clarke-Stewart, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Irvine, analyze data from the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. That study is an ongoing research project at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
The authors found that when family child-care providers had more training and education, the children in their care scored higher on tests of cognitive and language development than those children with providers who had less education.
A version of this article appeared in the June 12, 2002 edition of Education Week as Reports Highlight Importance Of Caregivers’ Education