Extension improves day care options and offeringsWEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Parents who used to worry about whether their children would get into a good college now worry about whether the kids will get into a good day care.
In Indiana, there are licensed day care slots for about 10 percent of the children under age 12 who need them. Where are the other 90 percent? Many are cared for in unlicensed settings or by relatives. Some care for themselves.
The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service is working to improve both the quality and quantity of day care offerings. In addition to training and helping child-care providers meet licensing requirements, Extension educators encourage new providers to enter the field, and they play key roles in forming community partnerships to address local child-care issues.
Unlicensed care does not necessarily mean poor care, but licensing does provide standards for health and safety. "All children have the same safety and education needs," says Judith Myers-Walls, a Purdue human development Extension specialist. "Through training, we can bring unlicensed day care at least up to the same standards as licensed care." She says training also can encourage caregivers to move beyond the basics, to providing excellent environments for children.
One of the keys to increasing the number of providers and improving the quality of care is overcoming the "baby-sitter" stereotype.
"We have this idea that every woman knows how to take care of children," Myers-Walls says. "Child care is not seen as a profession. As a society, we need to establish reasonable pay scales and make formal training available. We also need to educate parents about what to look for in quality child care. Often decisions about child care are based on cost and convenience rather than quality."
Operating a business is not the main focus of caregivers, notes Nancy Hunter, an Extension educator in Boone County, Ind. "Most people get into this business because they are nurturing, and they want to provide a service. But they don't spend a lot of time on the business part," she says. "To be effective for themselves and for parents, they have to operate as a business." For example, new providers may not have thought about what they would do if parents don't pay them or don't pick up their child on time.
To get them thinking about those issues, Hunter offers a series of workshops in her county for new child-care providers. She also organizes an annual child-care resource fair, complete with booths set up by community service agencies that provide assistance to child-care providers.
In addition to a myriad of training programs, Purdue Extension provides free newsletters, educational videos, packaged lesson plans and nutritional guides among its array of resource materials. Nationally, the Cooperative Extension Service operates the National Network for Child Care, a Web site devoted to child care information.
Getting civic and business leaders interested in quality child care is another service Extension performs to address the needs through community partnerships.
"Businesses have an economic interest in child care, particularly firms that employ a lot of women and operate around the clock," says James Elicker, Purdue professor of child development and family studies. "Child-care problems cause families a fair degree of stress and absenteeism. Communities can pool resources, collaborate in planning and offer tax breaks so no one company takes all the burden."
To help pinpoint the issues in Clinton County, Ind., a committee brought in Purdue's Center for Families to conduct a child-care needs assessment. Elicker conducted the study with a team of students. They found a need for not only more child care, but also for more child-care options.
The committee is now addressing those concerns. The findings are being used to establish a five-year plan, which may include constructing a child care-center near a growing industrial park.
In Adams County, Ind., Extension educator Trisha Hockemeyer is part of a community child-care committee whose efforts led to the county's first licensed day care center. After attending one of Hockemeyer's child-care programs, a second licensed provider began offering evening child care for second-shift workers.
Now the committee is moving beyond establishing child care to getting local businesses to "buy in" to child care. "We're currently trying to get businesses to help subsidize care," Hockemeyer says.
Sources: Judith Myers-Walls, (765) 494-2959
Nancy Hunter, (765) 482-0750
James Elicker, (765) 494-2938
Trisha Hockemeyer, (219) 724-3000
Writer: Beth Forbes, (765) 494-9723; email@example.com
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
Age-appropriate toys are just one of the factors in healthy child development that are provided in quality day care settings. The brightly colored beads and wires attract the attention of 2-year-old Vivian Gu while Purdue student Jill Holmes plays with her at the Purdue Child Care Center. (Purdue News Service Photo by Tom Campbell)
Color photo, electronic transmission, and Web and ftp download available. Photo ID: Myers-walls.child