Urgent Issues Action Plan


 

EARLY EDUCATION AND CARE

The prioritized list of solutions for the Early Education and Care Community Action Network issue area and brief rationales are:

1. Increase the number of new qualified early childhood teachers and keep current qualified teachers.
Recruiting and retaining qualified teachers and directors has been a chronic problem for early childhood programs for many years and recently has reached a crisis level. The annual teacher turnover rate is 31%, and less than 1 in 3 early childhood teachers have a credential or degree in the field.

Research evidence supports the importance of increased education and specific professional training:

  • Child-related training increases social interaction between the caregiver and the children, cooperation and task persistence among children, while decreasing the time that children are uninvolved in activities.
  • Children score better on tests of cognitive and social competence when their caregivers have higher levels of child-related training and formal education.
  • Teacher preparation significantly predicts program quality. Better program quality is linked with more positive child outcomes, especially in terms of language and representational skills - critical areas for school success.
  • Experience alone is not a predictor of effective teaching of young children. Infants with teachers who may be experienced, but lack formal training, receive less cognitive and social simulation and are less active.

2. Support providers to improve the quality of child care.
The Texas Minimum Standards for Day Care Centers and Registered Family Homes provide a basic structure for the physical health and safety of young children. However, the standards do not address quality issues such as curriculum and learning environments. Too often, child care programs use the "Minimum Standards" as "the standard" instead of as a base.

The step from the level of minimum standards to Accreditation or Designated Vendor standards is too large for resource-poor child care centers to make unassisted. Even with the low pay of child care workers, a high percentage of centers' budgets go to employee related costs that starve budget items for operational purchases such as facilities, supplies, equipment, maintenance, repairs, and improvements.

Quality child care requires both qualified staff and a good, safe learning environment. The supply of good quality care is limited even if parents can afford to pay higher child care rates. As of January 2001, less than 11% of licensed centers and registered family homes in Travis County met quality standards.

3. Support parents.
Parents need supports through parenting education and specific support services. Research findings indicate that better supported parents with improved coping skills are less likely to abuse their children. Increased parental understanding of typical child development patterns leads to earlier identification and intervention of mental and physical delays or disabilities. Children whose parents understand how to prepare them for school will be more poised for success in school and should stay in school longer.

A significant amount of effort and money is currently being spent for parent support in Austin. However, this effort is not as effective as it could be. Parenting support groups find that open invitation training efforts are poorly attended. Parents, on the other hand, find it difficult to obtain information about what training and supports are available. With a relatively small investment in a centralized resource, the money that is currently being spent could be better utilized.

In Texas, relatives, parents, or babysitters care for 53% of children under five whose mothers are employed. Typically, relatives and babysitters (often friends and neighbors) do not define themselves as "child care providers", and resist using training for child care workers. The best and most positive influence for these caregivers is through parent education training. Children need knowledgeable, responsive adults whether the adults are parents, teachers, or kith and kin caregivers.

4. Reduce the cost of good quality child care to parents.
Child care becomes less and less affordable as the cost of child care increases beyond 10% of the family's income. Middle-income families ($36 to 54k) spend an average of $73.10 per week for child care, which is 8.5% of their income. Low-income families (<$15k) spend an average of $47.29 per week, or 25.1% of their income. The fact that low-income families spend less on child care may result in limiting their choices to child care that is poor or mediocre and therefore harmful to children. Because of economics, some children are left at home unsupervised, or older school age children are kept home to watch preschool siblings.

5. Increase public awareness of the importance of early childhood development, parenting skills, and qualified early childhood teachers.
An engaged and knowledgeable community is a critical step in achieving the above objectives. A sustained long-term campaign is needed to create a public will to make the necessary investments for young children. Good quality early childhood environments, both at home and at out of home care, will offer long term benefits to young children, their parents, and in turn the community.

Planning Process
Part of the process of determining the urgent issues and prioritized solutions was to review previous planning efforts, early childhood initiatives in other communities, the Community Action Networks' Early Education and Care Community Assessment (November 1999), and research. Previous efforts consistently named the same issues that are listed as the current early childhood issues and solutions. The Early Education and Care Work Group added the prioritized ranking and made the direct connection to possible actions, investments, and existing resources. The Austin Child Care Council approved the matrix.

Early Education and Care Matrix
The attached matrix presents the associated problem, a desired result, and specific recommended actions for each urgent issue. Programs that address the problem are named, and opportunities for investments are listed. In the early childhood area, we are fortunate that there are currently operating programs that address almost all of the recommended actions. The Community's task is to expand the capacity, availability, and accessibility of good quality early childhood programs and parent education to bring us closer to the solutions. The matrix is intended to be a simple, straightforward tool to help with those tasks. While the objectives are listed separately, they are interconnected and interdependent. Failure to provide a sufficient level of support to one objective will have a negative effect on others. For example, teacher qualifications have a direct and powerful relationship to program quality but are listed as a separate objective because of the severity and complexity of the problem.

The Austin Child Care Council is the responsible group for the Early Education and Care Urgent Issues. To contact the Child Care Council and/or to get more information about the items on the matrix call Angelica Santacruz, Early Childhood Services Office, City of Austin, (512) 972-5028 or email to "Angelica.Santacruz@ci.austin.tx.us".

2001 Urgent Issues Action Plan Home Page