ERIC Identifier: ED296809
Publication Date: 1987-00-00
Author: Willer, Barbara
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Quality or Affordability: Trade-Offs for Early Childhood
Programs? ERIC Digest.
The demand for early childhood services in this country has never been
greater. This unprecedented demand is stretching the levels of program quality
to the limit. In fact, we are facing a crisis in child care. Many programs are
unable to recruit and retain qualified staff due to inadequate wages and
difficult working conditions. Affordability continues to be a major issue for
Child care and early education issues are gaining increasing media attention,
as evidenced by recent stories in NEWSWEEK, TIME, USA TODAY, THE NEW YORK TIMES,
and THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. Numerous child care bills have been introduced in
Congress, and state legislatures and local municipalities continue to discuss
the child care issue.
Unfortunately, many of those who have "discovered" the crisis in child care
focus on only one facet of the problem: the need for affordable programs. The
fact is that solutions to the crisis must, in addition to insuring
affordability, assure (1) the quality of programs, (2) adequate compensation for
teachers, and (3) availability to all families.
There are those who assume that assuring affordable programs is the primary
concern. Some suggest that licensing provisions should be relaxed. They feel
that strict standards keep potential providers from offering services and thus
exacerbate problems in program availability. Those who focus strictly on
affordability assume that program quality will improve as parents purchase the
level of quality they desire. This reasoning is based on several faulty
--That families have unlimited income to spend on child care, --That parents
fully appreciate the long-term implications of lack of quality and have the
resources to act on this recognition, --That parents can adequately monitor
programs without outside assistance, --That licensing standards are not
important for safeguarding children in care settings.
PAYING FOR CHILD CARE
Most parents want to ensure that their children have good early child care,
but many are unable to afford the cost. A recent survey of 600 American families
revealed that nearly 40% of the respondents felt that they could not afford
their current child care arrangement or the arrangement they would prefer
(American Federation, 1987). States are also finding it difficult to fund
adequate child care. Fewer than 10% of the 1.1 million eligible California
children who are 14 or younger can be served at the state's current level of
child care funding (Blank, 1987). Family incomes cannot support the current
delivery system, let alone provide the resources needed to improve the quality
of services. Relying on family income to stimulate improvements in program
quality will serve only families which can afford to pay for a quality program.
Such an approach unfairly limits participation in good programs to affluent
Provision of subsidies to families to allow them full access to quality
programs would require a massive infusion of resources, on a sliding-scale
basis, into the child care system. It is unlikely that sufficient funds can be
funneled to programs through parent subsidy. Too many parents already face
competing demands for their limited budgets.
A PROBLEM OF PROGRAM QUALITY
Across the country the quality of early childhood programs is being affected
by serious problems in recruiting and retaining qualified staff. For years,
staff have subsidized early childhood programs by accepting compensation far
below the value of their work. Many early childhood practitioners receive income
below the poverty level. A new survey by the National Committee on Pay Equity
(1987) found that child care is the second most underpaid profession. Turnover
rates among child care workers are among the highest for any industry. When an
early childhood staff member leaves, it may take months to find a qualified
person to fill the vacancy.
To fight turnover, programs must be able to offer substantial increases in
wages and benefits. Even if unlimited funds were provided, quality programs
would not be guaranteed. That there is little public understanding of the
importance of early childhood care and the characteristics of quality programs
for young children is apparent in the low status and compensation accorded those
who teach and care for young children. This general lack of understanding is
exacerbated by the fact that deleterious effects of low quality programs may not
be immediately apparent, but rather constitute missed opportunities with
potentially negative long-term effects.
PARENTS ALONE CANNOT MONITOR PROGRAM QUALITY
When a family eats at a fast food restaurant, the parents do not walk through
the kitchen to judge its cleanliness. Public licensing and inspection processes
help to ensure that consumers find acceptable quality. Licensing of early
childhood programs serves the same purpose. Licensing standards set forth the
public definition of acceptable program quality for children. Differences in
standards from state to state reflect differences in public understanding of and
support for needed provisions. Parents play an important role in monitoring the
licensing process, but ultimately the state sets minimum levels of
Does licensing hinder program availability? Licensing standards help to keep
out unscrupulous or unqualified providers. More importantly, an effective
licensing system helps providers in locating information and technical
assistance, recruiting children, and getting insurance. Thus, an effective
licensing system actually supports the provision of early childhood programs.
Easing licensing provisions, or deregulating care by making registration for
family day care providers voluntary, negates the public value of this service.
Further, easing standards may compromise the safety of children if necessary
safeguards are not required.
ADDRESSING THE CRISIS
The provision of quality early childhood programs benefits all segments of
society. Parents benefit from knowing their children are getting the best
possible start in life. Employers benefit because parents' productivity is not
impaired by unstable arrangements. Despite benefits to all, the costs of
providing quality early childhood services have been borne largely by parents
and the subsidies of early childhood staff. Creative approaches are needed to
encourage all segments of society to take a more active role in supporting
quality programs. Many such strategies are described in the NAEYC publication
THE GROWING CRISIS IN CHILD CARE: QUALITY, COMPENSATION, AND AFFORDABILITY IN
EARLY CHILDHOOD PROGRAMS.
Groups and individuals can also work to ensure the passage of new federal
legislation proposed by the Alliance for Better Child Care (ABC). A major
portion of the funds in the ABC legislation is targeted to help families deal
with the problems of affordability on a sliding scale basis. But the ABC effort
also seeks to improve the total child care system by (1) improving access to
quality programs, (2) strengthening state standards and their implementation,
(3) improving family day care as well as child care centers, (4) supporting
parental involvement, (5) advocating training programs to ensure qualified
staff, (6) encouraging coordination among state and local agencies that affect
young children and their families, and (7) providing additional funds to serve
more children, assure quality, and improve compensation of staff. (To find out
more about the Alliance for Better Child Care, contact The Children's Defense
Fund, 122 C. Street NW, Washington, DC 20001.)
An integrated approach is essential to dealing with the crisis of child care.
There can be no trade-offs between quality and affordability. We can make a
significant investment in the future of our nation when we support the provision
of high quality early childhood programs to all families who want their
This ERIC Digest was adapted from "Quality or Affordability: Trade-Offs for
Early Childhood Programs?" YOUNG CHILDREN 42 (September, 1987): 41-43.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. AMERICA'S
CHILD CARE NEEDS: THE 1987 AFSCME NATIONAL SECRETARY'S WEEK OPINION POLL.
Washington, DC: 1987.
Blank, H. Testimony before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Children,
Families, Drugs, and Alcoholism of the Labor and Human Resources Committee.
Washington, DC, June 10, 1987.
National Association for the Education of Young Children. THE GROWING CRISIS
IN CHILD CARE: QUALITY, COMPENSATION, AND AFFORDABILITY IN EARLY CHILDHOOD
PROGRAMS. Washington, DC: 1987.
National Committee on Pay Equity. PAY EQUITY: AN ISSUE OF RACE, ETHNICITY,
AND SEX. Washington, DC: 1987.