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Speaking Up for Young Children

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Billie Osborne-Fears is the founding Executive Director of Starting Point for Child Care and Early Education, which is the Community Based Child Care/Early Education resource and Referral Agency, serving four counties in Ohio (Cuyahoga, Ashtabula, Geauga, and Lake). She received a Master of Social Science Administration Degree from Case Western Reserve University's School of Applied Social Sciences and a Bachelor of Science in Child/Family and Community Services from Bowling Green State University.

Ms. Osborne-Fears' background consists of a twenty-six year career in the social service arena, ranging from Head Start, Child Care to Youth Services. She was formerly the Associate Director of Early Childhood and Youth Services for the Greater Cleveland Neighborhood Centers Association.

A Large body of research demonstrates that there is direct correlation between the quality of childcare in a child's earliest years and his or her brain development and, therefore, subsequent ability to enter school ready to learn. National studies have shown that even when there is childcare available, if the quality of care is poor or mediocre, it is potentially detrimental to the child's development and safety. Poor quality care can lead to delayed language and reading skills and aggressive behavior toward other children and adults.

Conversely, exposure to quality early care and education is a critical indicator of school readiness; language, socialization, and literacy skill development; and a child's ability to overcome barriers to learning. High quality childcare can produce greater math ability, greater thinking and attention skills, improved language abilities and social skills, better self-perception and positive work habits. And, the results of exposure to early quality childcare experiences last into adulthood,

The development of quality child care must be viewed from two perspectives. The first is from the system that supports the programs and the second is from the program itself. The first viewpoint affects the development of a strong system of quality childcare: expanding parent information; increasing professional development and homecare provider credentialing; facility licensing/certification; and, monitoring and enforcement. System change also addresses program accreditation, funding and financing, governance of providers, and advocacy for greater public investment in childcare. The second viewpoint addresses the individual home or childcare program by assisting in the development and maintenance of appropriate learning experiences for children, as well as implementation of safe environments, increased parent involvement, and linking families to community services.

Research shows that the presence of consistent, sensitive, well-trained, and well-compensated caregivers is the single most important determining factor of high quality childcare and early education. The level of educational attainment and training of staff is a critical factor in improving children's positive learning experiences while in childcare and in enhancing the level of readiness of those children to enter school prepared to learn. Unfortunately, because childcare providers generally are not well paid, the incentive to acquire advanced skills is not great. And, all too often, for financial reasons, acquiring these skills is not an option. Therefore, many teachers leave the field altogether to seek higher paying jobs in other careers. Additionally, because Ohio is among 41 states that do not require home-care providers to have any early childhood training prior to serving children, and is among the 31 states that allow teachers in child care centers to start work without prior training, there is little motivation to go back to school to learn about early education and/or childhood development.

The dilemma posed to families who wish to have access to quality childcare is that, for many, childcare already costs more per year than tuition at a public university. Families, especially poor families, are not able to afford higher center or home-provider costs. However, cutting center or home-provider compensation is not an answer. Childcare providers operate on extremely tight budgets. For providers, a large proportion of a childcare program's budget is devoted to staff salaries. This compensation is already unacceptably low so that lowering fees would only further undermine a program's ability to hire and retain a sufficient number of teachers, to purchase adequate materials and equipment, and to provide a safe facility.

Cuyahoga County's response to enhancing quality childcare options is to provide funding to develop and implement an Early Childhood Professional Development System, using the nationally renowned Teacher, Education, and Compensation Helps (T.E.A.C.H.) Project, currently operating in 21 states. The T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood Ohio Project is designed to provide sequential educational scholarships and bonus opportunities to staff working directly with children. With this assistance, teachers are able to obtain further education in early childhood education and encouraged to use that learning in the same setting, instead of seeking a higher-paid job elsewhere. This initiative focuses on the system change approach by enhancing and improving the quality of childcare available to families in Cuyahoga County. It builds on the critical work of the next phase of the Early Childhood Initiative - that of addressing the development of quality childcare options to families.

T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood Ohio encourages teachers to advance their education in this field by:

  1. Providing scholarships to staff working in early care to attend college or obtain the CDA Credential;
  2. Offering incentives directly related to increased education; and,
  3. Reducing staff turnover by requiring participants to commit to their sponsoring program after each scholarship year (one year of commitment for one year of scholarship assistance).
     

The costs are shared in a three-way partnership with the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood Ohio Protect, the childcare center, and the participant. In the case of a family childcare home provider T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood Ohio and the provider share the scholarship cost.

Teacher education is not the total answer to the enhancement of childcare, but is clearly a critical piece and one that is being implemented in Cuyahoga County with the assistance of the Community \/ision Council. It is an approach that links education with compensation and commitment, and is a way of ensuring that children have stability in their early care and education programs.

As the project unfolds in our county and more teachers take advantage of the scholarships, advocacy will become a key factor. It will involve advocating for the maintenance or expansion of funding, for higher compensation rates to provider agencies, and, subsequently, for higher teacher wages. Embedded in this phase will be the need to communicate to the community at large the long-term value of high quality childcare for all children in Ohio.

by Billie Osborne-Fears
Executive Director of Starting Point for Child Care and Early Education

A Publication of the Early Childhood Enrichment Center
Volume 2, Issue 1, Winter 2003

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