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Finding Quality Child Care Requires Due Diligence

When it comes to choosing child care, how do parents know whether they're signing up for a quality program?

By asking tough questions of the providers, says Grace Reef, the chief of policy and evaluation at Child Care Watch of America, a resource and advocacy organization.

Reef discussed the issues involved in trying to improve early child care, including varying state standards and a lack of accountability, during a recent podcast with Early Ed Watch of the New America Foundation's Early Learning Initiative.

Reef said that parents shouldn't be afraid of asking about such issues as the training and education of child-care staff, safety standards, class size and how many kids are served by a program.

"There are many things that go into it and training is a big piece," Reef said. "It's not always clear what questions parents should ask and they're not always sure about what to look for."

She noted that there are several factors affecting efforts to improve the quality of child care, including a lack of training and education among workers.

Most child-care jobs offer low annual salaries, averaging about $18,000 a year, which makes it difficult to attract and retain quality employees. Couple that with the minimal standards set by many states, some of which don't even require that child-care workers have high school degrees, and "you almost guarantee it's going to be a low-paying field," Reef said.

She said that her organization is continuing its efforts to educate state and federal policymakers about these issues in order to strengthen the quality of child care, improve accountability for the federal dollars that support child care, and move more low-income kids into programs offering higher quality care.

Those efforts include pushing for Congressional reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant, the primary federal source of funding for child-care subsidies for working families. "We think times are really changing," Reef said. "There's more interest in this and we're hoping to build and break through that polarization of Congress and maybe this year get a bill."

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