Journal Issue: Caring for Infants and Toddlers Volume 11 Number 1 Spring/Summer 2001
Studies of child development confirm that experiences with people mold an infant's mind and personality. Caregiving is, therefore, central to development, whether the caregiver is a parent, a grandmother, or a teacher in a child care center. This article uses data from new, national studies of families to examine the state of child care for infants and toddlers. The story it tells is complex, as the authors outline the overlapping impacts that diverse child care settings and home situations have on children.
- Early exposure to child care can foster children's learning and enhance their lives, or it can leave them at risk for troubled relationships. The outcome that results depends largely on the quality of the child care setting.
- Responsive caregivers who surround children with language, warmth, and chances to learn are the key to good outcomes. Other quality attributes (like training and staff-to-child ratios) matter because they foster positive caregiving.
- Diversity and variability are hallmarks of the American child care supply. Both "wonderful and woeful" care can be found in all types of child care but, overall, settings where quality is compromised are distressingly common.
- Children whose families are not buoyed by good incomes or government supports are the group most often exposed to poor-quality care.
Given this balanced but troubling look at the status of child care for infants and toddlers, the authors conclude that there is a mismatch between the rhetoric of parental choice and the realities facing parents of young children in the United States. They call on communities, businesses, foundations, and government to play a larger role in helping parents secure good care for their infants and toddlers.