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Jeanna Beker (extreme left) in the Soho Center's
Early Childhood Education Center 

The Importance of Good Family Child Care 
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An Essay by Jeanna Beker, Director, The Soho Center

Each of us comes to the child care field with our own personality, background, and life experience.  And each of us has to figure out many things about children, parents, business, and ourselves in order to successfully provide quality child care. 

Here's my story and some of my thoughts. 

My experience in the child care field began over 40 years ago.  I worked briefly in Head Start, became a family child care provider for toddlers and pre-schoolers, and then founded and directed the largest early childhood program in New York City for 17 years (with programs for infants through pre-kindergarten).  I established several child care centers (including for the United Nations), organized after-school enrichment programs, taught parent education classes, trained teachers, led numerous workshops for family child care providers, offered providers a range of child care-related services, and developed child-related media and print materials for providers, parents, and child care organizations nationwide. 

As a result, I look at the child care field from a lot of vantage points.  Here's some of what I see. 

America's "family life" has changed for so many children in unfortunate ways. More and more children are entering full-time child care (and at an earlier age).  And our society seems too often to accept declining standards and lowered expectations as the norm.  I am saddened (but not surprised) that national research shows that most young children in this country are getting inadequate care and attention in child care centers and family child care homes.  So many children are failing to form trusting relationships and to learn what they need to learn to be ready to start school successfully. 

The consequences are enormous.  From personal experience, I know how hard it is to run a quality child care program each and every day for every child.  I also know it can be done and must be done -  for a handful of children at a time - by every child care provider who cares.  Since the majority of children in child care in America are in family child care, each handful of these children who get quality care adds up and makes a difference. 

And that's why family child care providers like you are so important.  With understanding and sincere respect for your complex job of being a provider, I offer you a handful of suggestions for providing quality child care. 
 

Meet Your State Regulations

      Child care codes reflect basic, minimum standards - mostly to help ensure children's health and safety (and also so children of different ages get a reasonable amount of attention and the size of the group is manageable).  If you've met your state regulations (and gotten voluntarily registered or licensed), you've taken an important step in the right direction.  Now, hopefully, you'll keep improving different aspects of your program and do even more than the minimum standards require.  If you're not regulated, call your state's Department of Social Services and they'll tell you how to get started. Thousands of providers in every state have successfully gotten regulated.  And you can too! 
Get on the USDA Child Care Food Program
      No matter what your family income, the Food Program pays you to feed kids nutritious meals and snacks.  It's part of the National School Lunch Act. If you've met your state's regulations, you're entitled to be on it. You'll get nutrition education and money each month to help pay for healthy food for the kids in your care.  There are about 200,000 providers (of all income levels) nationwide who have joined the Food Program.  They know how important and  helpful it is to get that extra money each month - to feed kids well, to keep their rates affordable, and to earn enough to stay in business.  Kids get better food, and you get a check each month. 

      If you're on the Food Program, stay on it!  Even with various legislative changes, you'll still come out ahead.  And if you're not on the Food Program, join!  Call the USDA's National Child Nutrition Program at 1-703-305-2600 to learn how.  It's really worth doing! 

Take Care of Business
      You're running a home-based busines, and it's important to learn about record-keeping and all your allowable tax  deductions.  Why?  By doing things right, you'll be legal with the IRS and keep more of  your hard-earned money when tax time comes around.  What else should you do?  Act like a professional.  Get business insurance, publicize your services, and have written parent contracts. (Check out the Soho Center's DVD, The Business of Family Child Care for some great tips.  For more information, call the Soho Center at 540-923-5012 or Click Here.)
Make Use of Available Resources

There are many free and low-cost resources to help you run a quality child care program.  Unfortunately, most providers - even those who have been in the child care field five years or more - don't know about these available resources.  That's why we've compiled the National Child Care Resource Directory, now in its 5th Edition. (You can get a copy for a very modest price from the Soho Center.  For more information, call the Soho Center at 540-923-5012 or Click Here.)

Keep Learning
      No one knows everything about children and child care.  Whether you're a parent or a grandparent, a new provider or very experienced,  there's always more to learn.  Whenever you can, attend training sessions on infant-child CPR, child development, age-appropriate activities, health and safety, business issues, you-name-it.  Read books, brochures, magazine articles, and newsletters about children and child care.  Meet other providers at training sessions and by joining a child care association.  (You're in the same profession, face many similar situations, and have a lot of practical information to share with each other.) 

      Each day, learn from your experiences.  Think about what works and what doesn't.  Notice what children are doing, saying, feeling, and needing.  Whenever possible, ask yourself (and others) three related questions - 
       

      •   "What  can I do to make my program even better?"
      •   "What else can I do for each child?"
      •   "How can I best communicate with parents and keep them involved?"

Keep Teaching
      You're not a babysitter.  You're one of the most important people in the world to the children in your care.  Nowadays, many young children spend the bulk of their waking hours in child care.  They depend on providers like you - along with their parents - to keep them healthy and safe and to help them learn everything they need to know. Although it's a big responsibility, it's a wonderful opportunity to make a difference in children's lives.  Good child care providers need to be good teachers - helping others learn, want to learn, feel capable of learning.  As a provider, you can be a good teacher for each child in your care.  You can also be a good teacher for parents and other providers - sharing what you know.
Each of us has a lot to offer - if only we would.  And each of us has a lot to gain when we do.  Please remember; what you do is important - so make it the best that you can!
            


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