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Editorial: Improve day care, improve academic performance

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

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Seventy percent of parents in the United States work. Obviously then, most can’t spend every waking moment with their kid. 

Working parents have to leave their child — or children — in someone else’s hands. In fact, 40 percent of children under five — about 8.2 million children in the United States — spend at least part of their week in the care of somebody other than a parent.

Amber Scorah was one of these parents. As she describes in an op-ed in Sunday’s edition of The New York Times, Scorah decided to return to her job after her maternity leave ended, leaving her 15-week-old baby at a city day care. The first day Scorah left her child at the day care, she returned to an unconcious son, with the day care owner “performing CPR on him, incorrectly.”

Scorah’s son died that day.

While Scorah’s case is the extreme, it illustrates a very real problem: “A mother should never have no choice but to leave her infant with a stranger at 3 months old if that decision doesn’t feel right to her.”

Unless they can afford a full time nanny, day care is simply necessary for working parents in the United States, but due to a lack of proper funding and regulations, consistent and quality child care is difficult to find. The implications go beyond immediate safety, however. Low quality care can bleed into a child’s development, affecting their educational achievement later in life.

Contrary to many European countries, like France and Denmark, child care in the United States is poorly subsidized and not provided by the state. Our lack of investment equates to a median annual salary of about $19,430 for child care workers. This, in turn, means that less people will be willing to work in the field. According to a New Republic report, “Experts recommend a ratio of one caregiver for every three infants between six and 18 months, but just one-third of children are in settings that meet that standard.”

Similarly, such a low salary will not be attracting high quality talent to day cares, making workers with low qualifications necessary to watch over your kids.

The low investment in day cares also means that the regulations for them are trivial, or unenforced. Many states require minimal or no training in basic safety skills, health skills or in child development of day care staffers, but if the pay is so little, how many day care workers would even be willing to undergo training in the first place?

Depending on the state, in cases where a day care does fail to meet minimum health and safety standards, the day care can simply affiliate with a church, religious institution or parochial school, which will then exempt the center from the state’s standards.

Due to the lack of trained workers and uniform standards, the National Institute of Child Health Development rates the majority of day cares as “fair” or “poor,” giving only 10 percent a “high-quality” rating.

This is extremely concerning, especially when considering that experiences in early childhood can shape one’s adult life. In fact, emotional support that a child receives during the first three and a half years can have an effect on their education and social life up to 30 years later, according to 2014 study published in “Child Development,” a collection of scientific articles.

Babies and toddlers who grew up in more supportive environments tended to do better on standardized tests later on and were more likely to attain higher degrees as adults, according to the study.

If early child care plays such a large role in overall educational achievement, why are we not investing in it more? Education is such a poignant issue in American political discourse, yet, we tend to overlook day care as one of the key contributors to low academic achievement.

Education policy should start early, at the base of a student’s academic career — their childhood. Better subsidizing and mandating uniform standards for day cares is necessary to develop better students.

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Editorial: Improve day care, improve academic performance