© 2011 Idaho Press-Tribune

Day care providers will start using a point system to tabulate how many kids can be under the watch of one caregiver, starting July 1. Currently, state law requires that day care providers take a head count to satisfy minimum licensing requirements. The new formula means more kids of different ages can be grouped together under the watch of one caregiver.

For day care providers, the law is easier to understand than what was in place, easier to comply with and clarifies confusion over numbers. That’s especially important for programs that adhere to the Montessori style of teaching, which emphasizes a mix of ages in one room, said Rep. Lynn Luker, a Boise Republican who sponsored the bill. The bill also adjusted licensing fees and granted cities the authority to establish stricter minimum standards than the state.

For parents, the level of interaction their children have with their caregiver could be affected.

A day care following the new minimum standards would have a  difficult time maintaining quality, said Melissa Bandy, director of the Idaho STARS program, which provides referrals and ratings of licensed day cares.

“The drawback is there’s still too many children in a classroom to provide a really high-level response relationship and skill development that children need,” she said.

What to look for

Know the law, then choose wisely, child care experts advise when it comes to considering a daycare. Minimum standards aren’t the same as best practice standards. Quality programs will go above and beyond,  Bandy said.

“It is really critical for parents to really identify what is important to them. The routine and the consistency of the environment are key, and the relationship is always number one,” she said.

What indicates a high-quality daycare?

• Relationship — This refers to the level of interaction between the caregiver and the child, as well as how children relate to other children in their group. How do they treat each other? How are problems solved?

• Routine — Look for consistency throughout the day. There should be a set routine that a) follows the lead of the children’s interests and b) is also predictable. It’s empowering to a child, Bandy said, to be able to predict that snack time is coming up next, or that outside time happens every day.

• Consistency — This encompasses both relationship and routine. Experts call it “continuity of care.” It means when a child comes into a daycare environment, they’re not seeing multiple, ever-changing faces of those who are caring for them, and routines don’t get changed up every other day.

• Knowledge — Your child’s caretaker should be knowledgeable about child development. Is the daycare provider really invested in learning about children? Is he or she enrolled in an education program or seeking a degree? State licensing does not require any pre-training, Bandy said. Cosmetologists  in Idaho, for example, have to satisfy 2,000 hours of training and 4,000 hours of apprenticeship, but a child care provider does not have any hourly pre-service requirement.

Parents are encouraged to visit the daycare, count the number of caregivers and the number of children they supervise, check for safety features, ask about training and references, and pop in unannounced on occasion once their children are enrolled.

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