Child care grows up

Thursday, April 21, 2005

There are hundreds of photographs decorating the walls of Christian School for the Young Years in Cape Girardeau. Photographs of smiling children playing with blocks, reading, celebrating Valentine's Day, watching chicks hatch.

In the school's 10 classrooms, around 120 children ages 1 to 5 read, paint, play computer games and examine bugs under a magnifying glass.

"We have a different approach," said Janet Goodin, owner. "The curriculum emerges out of conversations and things that are going on in their lives."

Though some of those practices began years ago, many of the new standards implemented are tied to the school's accreditation, which was received this month.

Two years ago, there were no independently owned, state-accredited child-care centers in the 20-county region covered by Southeast Missouri Child Care Resource and Referral.

Today, there are 14 accredited providers with 24 more working toward accreditation out of a total 585 licensed facilities in the resource office's coverage area.There are new grants and other state funding open to accredited facilities now, one reason many choose to pursue the status. Most directors say the main reason their facilities became accredited, though, is just a chance to improve the service they offer.

And while quality of service has improved, those working in early childhood education say there are still areas of concern.

Among those concerns is a lack of quality child care. Accredited programs are a sign of high quality, according to Heather Fisher with Southeast Missouri Child Care Resource and Referral.

While that doesn't mean non-accredited providers aren't high quality, parents have begun to take note of the status and are flocking toward those that are accredited. Currently, Christian School for the Young Years has a waiting list of nearly 80 children.

"Parents come to us while they're still pregnant to put their name on the list," Goodin said. "We were already good before accreditation, but it's an important recognition for us and make people more aware of our quality."

Care for infacts and toddlers is lacking the most in this area, according to the resource office.

Toddler Tech in Scott City is currently working toward accreditation and has eight infants on a waiting list, owner Wendy Pennington said.

"Here in Scott City we have no competition because there's so many kids who need care," Pennington said.

Another concern is lack of recognition for child-care workers.

"Birth to 5 are the most important years in a child's life. Child-care providers do everything from potty training to teaching them to tie shoes to beginning reading skills," Fisher said.

In Missouri, the average hourly wage for child-care workers is $7.69, and most do not receive benefits such as insurance, according to data from the Association for the Education of Young Children of Missouri.

"It's such a high-stress job and we're taking care of the most important thing in parents' lives," Goodin said.

The result can be high turnover among child-care workers.

"People think we just baby-sit. Most day cares now aren't baby-sitting. They do a lot more," said Rose Kinsey, director of Just Kids in Jackson.

Kinsey said that's especially true of accredited centers, such as Just Kids, where teachers develop lesson plans, a schedule and explanations of how children are impacted by daily activities.

"They are underappreciated and the pay is not good at all," Kinsey said. "Most have no vacation, no personal days and no health insurance. That's where you lose your workers."Goodin said most centers aren't big money makers, thus the low pay. Additional funds do come from grants, but that money isn't often used for pay raises or benefits because it eventually runs out.

Fisher said she would like to see recognition of child-care workers, such an annual early childhood education teacher of the year award.

"That's what they are, educators," Fisher said.

cmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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