The headline "Summer camp beats day care" (June 26 article) immediately caught my attention since I am an early childhood educator and administrator. Some very good points about child-care were made, and some stereotypes were mentioned. There are some salient points about each that I want to emphasize.
As pointed out in the article, the economy has hit the child-care industry hard in the last few years. Since school-age care may be the most "discretionary" child-care, many quality school-age programs have had to scale back extensively or even close their doors. For those of us who are advocates for children, this provides a disheartening dilemma as those children become latch-key children. Kudos to programs like the ones mentioned in the article that are able to provide less expensive care with enrichment for school-age children. There are some important reasons that school-age care within a licensed child care center is more expensive.
Child-care programs that are open less than four hours a day during the school year, even though they may offer full-time care in the summer, are not required by the state to be licensed. This would include school-age programs at city or county recreation facilities, those included in entertainment complexes/dance/gymnastics programs, stand-alone centers, and those run by private or not-for-profit entities. Licensed centers must follow state regulations, including state and federal criminal background checks, health assessments, and checks of the Central Registry for Child Abuse and Neglect on any potential employee. Additionally, those centers that are monitored by the state are required to follow student-to-teacher ratios. The state mandated ratio for children 6-12 years old is 1 teacher to 23 children; often the ratio in unregulated centers is higher.
Further, in a licensed center, teachers must be at least 18, have a high school diploma, have experience under the supervision of a mentoring teacher, and complete yearly continuing education requirements. Certainly these state-mandated requirements ensure a level of confidence in the background, experience, health and education of teachers who work in licensed centers. The mandates also provide a higher degree of monitoring, observation and investigation by state agencies. All of these factors add costs to the operation of a licensed or regulated child care center.
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As I have mentioned, summer camps and after-school programs are not required to be monitored by any state agency. Background checks, education and work experience requirements, and health assessments are voluntary, as are examinations of facility and equipment safety. Hopefully, all school-age programs and summer camps follow a protocol checking into the criminal background and education of employees. Parents must be knowledgeable about the status of the program, the credentials of employees, and the safety and health protocols that are in place.
"Babysitting" was mentioned in the article in the same context as "daycare." Those of us in quality child care centers don't consider qualified teachers baby-sitters at any age level. We also don't refer to what we do as "day care" - quality centers care for and nurture children, providing enriching activities and explorations which support development in evidence-based practice. Recent research done on brain development confirms that the work we do with children birth to age 5 is the most important work done, actually setting the stage for success for children into adulthood. What the brain doesn't get prenatal through age 5 comes at a much higher cost later. In this respect alone, summer camp can't compare with quality early childhood education.
The writer lives in Myrtle Beach