November 13, 2008

What Kind of Care Do America's Babies Receive?

author_janis By Janis Prince Inniss

Recently, as a visitor to an early childhood education facility I was struck by the architecture of the building. I noticed the use of primary colors around the windows of the white building. The overall appearance was playful and child-friendly. However, as I walked inside the building and peered in the darkened classroom windows, I recognized that despite the outward appearance, at least one thing was like other less creatively designed spaces: nap time! Lights were off in every one of the dozen or so classrooms on both sides of the long hallway. As I pressed my face to the windows, I could see children sleeping in the rooms. In some, I saw little eyes staring back at me.

In a previous post, I discussed the percentage of American women who are employed in paid positions after giving birth and the percentage of children in child care centers. (Even under age 3, fewer than 10 percent of children are being taken care of in their own homes.) The majority are in child care centers. Have you ever been to a daycare facility? I know some “industry insiders”, including my mother. Until she resigned about two years ago, Mum worked at two different locations of one of the largest day care companies in the U.S. 

clip_image002An important concept in daycare—like in many other areas of life—is scheduling. Schedules are to be followed by all children, even the littlest ones. Each day, all of the children are to eat and sleep at the same time. Mum saw babies with their tired heads hung low being fed; teachers would keep kids awake until nap time so that they would all go to sleep at the same time. (Childcare rooms are divided into “classrooms” and that childcare workers are referred to as “teachers”.)

This uniformity allows teachers to have some concentrated quiet time. If you’ve ever taken care of even one young child for a few hours you know how coveted their nap time can be; imagine the need for that peace (and quiet!) if you’re taking care of about fifteen of them. That quiet time allows teachers to take care of their many chores such as writing lesson plans, updating each child’s folder with her developmental milestones, and sanitizing toys. Nap time lasts for two hours and teachers may force babies who wake before that time to remain quietly in their cribs so they don’t wake the others. In order to force them to remain quiet or go back to sleep, teachers shake the cribs, or pat the backs of those who dare to awaken early.

Is any of this wrong? Whether you think it is or not, you probably recognize that the uniformity of child schedules serves the teachers. Does it serve children? And what would be the alternative? Let each child’s schedule dictate when she would nap and eat? How would teachers handle such a room of babies or toddlers? 

Many aspects of having several young children together increase my concerns about germs. For example, in the summer, one local daycare has “water play” and each parent is asked to bring their child a towel with her name on it. Despite this arrangement, teachers place all the towels in one container and after water play is over, without regard to the name on the towel, they pass towels out to children indiscriminately. Even worse is the practice of doing laundry of sheets and bibs in one combined load. I want to avoid being graphic, but young children do soil their linens. The thought of those linens being mixed in with bibs…yikes! Add to this the fact that babies put, or at least try to put, just about everything in their mouths. They don’t stop this because they are sharing items with fifteen others in daycare. Little wonder that childcare has “altered the epidemiology of infectious disease in the U.S.” 

clip_image004All children need tender loving care. Some children, however, scream for extra attention. Mum attended to one such child: Born to a drug addicted mother, Billy was small for his age and refused a bottle or food from a spoon. Typically, such a child would not eat at daycare because there is no one, and no time to devote to any one child. For those children who didn’t like their lunches, rather than checking to see whether they might be interested in eating something else their parent had dropped off, teachers allow them to nap hungry. 

But Mum took the challenge with Billy. She held him in her lap to feed him—the children usually sit in high chairs at meal times—and gradually learned which foods he liked. As a “floater” between classes without teacher responsibilities, Mum used her time to meet children’s individual needs. She spent lots of times holding babies, especially those new to the centers. However, Mum’s focus on the individual needs of children was frowned upon because of the fear that babies would become used to attention the teachers don’t have time to give. 

The median annual salary for teachers in childcare centers was just over $16,000 in 2006. So you might argue that parents ”get what they pay for”. This is no indication of the actual cost of day care, however. At the center where Mum worked, it costs almost $200 per week for infants. Among other factors such as child’s age, location in the country makes a big difference, ranging in 2007 from an average annual price of $4,542 in Alabama to $14,591 in Massachusetts

Who will raise your children? You? You and/or your spouse or partner? Will you rely on a child care center? This post does not address any of the possible benefits of good quality childcare; how might you measure this? And does paying top-dollar to a day care center mean that a parent has provided that care?


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This is somehow alarming..
Two thumbs up to you.
My child hasnt been to one yet and Im thankful..
nothin against those daycares though..
its just that bonding with my kid is important to me.. it plays a big part of their development
- Jennie

Amen! We have three children. None have been in daycare. We feel it is very important for the parents to be very involved in the child's daily care, especially at such a young and impressionable age.

I recently read a chapter about family in my sociology class. It told about how important family bonding was for the childs development. Family relationships are very important and they start at young ages. People having babies should plan ahead of time and be able to spend a lot of time with their child instead of shipping them off to this kind of a daycare center so early in life. Yes, children will have to go to daycare, but they should not have to spend the majority of their time there.

Your blog is perfect! Very good article gives a person see admire that has a kind of feeling! Xi xi you share!

Thank you for your help!

Your blog is very fantastic and i love the content

thank you for the information.

the article is educative, thanks

This is very informative

You have written a great article. In America, I think they have extensive and elaborate childcare system in the world.

while this could sent shivers down the spine of any potential parent,but a careful and selective procedure could land one a well managed daycare center

All children need tender loving care.

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