What Is Quality Childcare?
Kathleen McCartney, a researcher at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, points to the following key attributes that define high-quality care:

Children learn best when they:

• Interact with others, both children and adults.

• Work actively with material.

• Are given opportunities to learn through meaningful and interesting activities.

• Are able to work at their own development level.

• Are able to predict routines and experiences.

Caregivers teach best when they:

• Respect children’s developmental needs, characteristics and cultures.

• Are sensitive and responsive to children.

• Develop trusting relationships with children.

• Empathize with children.

• Accommodate practices for children with special needs.

• Are unified with other caregivers in their responses to and treatment of children.

• Value and acknowledge children’s expression of affect, both positive and negative.

• Set realistic limits for children without shame or blame.

• Care for ill children by offering emotional support as well as attending to their physical needs.

Centers should have a:

• State-approved license and NAEYC accreditation.

• Educated teaching staff.

• Appropriate student-teacher ratios (for example, 3:1 for infants, 4:1 for 1- to 2-year-olds, 5:1 for 3-year-olds, 8:1 for 4-year-olds).

• Open-door policy that welcomes parental observation and participation.

• Written policies (for example, regarding illness).

• Confidential records.

• Health and safety precautions:

– Sanitary diapering (washing hands, cleaning surfaces)

– Covered electrical outlets

– Gated stairs

– Fresh food

– Toxic substances kept out of children’s reach

– Staff training on prevention of physical disease/CPR/first aid

– Workshops/training/classes for staff on early childhood practices.

What changes are needed?

McCartney suggests the following changes are imperative to improving the quality of child care in the United States:

• Strengthen standards and regulations for child-care programs.

• Require initial and ongoing training for staff working in child-care programs.

• Find ways to recruit and retain more highly educated and skilled staff.

• Inform parents about the importance of quality child care and its effects on children.

• Identify ways to support the costs of higher-quality child care.