Virginia daycare needs help

I am writing in response to the June 26, 2003, news article, "Bright Beginnings violations vex center."

I thought to myself that these types of violations are often found in childcare centers because of the changes in child daycare regulations made in the mid-'90s in the state of Virginia.

Prior to the changes, which were meant to "level the playing field," Virginia was one of the leading states for delivery of quality childcare. Sadly, we now rank on the lowest end. There are even fewer quality controls for family childcare, with many homes providing completely unregulated care. Increased group size, higher ratios, and decreased staff qualifications put the handwriting on the wall for stories such as the one you recently ran.

Virginia has reduced staff qualifications, raised ratios and has done little to manage group size. Pre-service and in-service training requirements are minimal.

Proven indicators of high quality are low staff-to-child ratios, small groups, and staff with professional preparation and ongoing training and development opportunities.

Low wages and overcrowded classrooms staffed with well meaning but stressed and often unprepared providers contribute to high levels of turnover. When this occurs, children suffer.

Families must help children deal with the loss of caregivers, people who many times spend more waking hours with them than their working parents. Granted, they are not a replacement for a parent, but they are an important part of a child's day to day life nevertheless. Strong relationships between parents and caregivers are beneficial to children. These relationships take time and trust to build, and with high turnover, they are difficult to establish and maintain.

I have been involved in early care and education since 1976. I am currently president of the Virginia Association for Early Childhood Education with a local affiliate chapter which provides free or low-cost professional development opportunities and advocacy for early care educators, parents, and those interested in the welfare of children from birth to eight.

We encourage everyone to get involved in and get vocal about the state of early care and education. The child daycare council will soon be reviewing child daycare regulations. Parents and child care providers can testify and let it be known that poor quality child care is unacceptable. It is time for us to make positive changes in this critical area.

Mary-Margaret Gardiner