By Florencia López-Boo.

There is not enough evidence about the specific critical and cost-effective actions needed to improve child care quality in Latin America. In contrast with sectors such as primary education, in which the region has invested significant effort in collecting indicators on teacher quality, resources in schools, and levels of student learning (PISA), governments still lack systematized and reliable information about child care services. If these data were available, what would we use it for?

Indeed, this information is key to identifying and monitoring compliance with a set of quality standards, at both publicly and privately funded centers. Having comparable data on the quality of child care centers will contribute to the creation of a measurable accountability mechanism for the investments made by countries.

To help fill this gap, we produced the book How is Child Care Quality Measured?, an easy-to-use toolkit that is also available in Spanish.

Evidence presented to the readers is listed below:

  • Discusses the definition of quality childcare services.
  • Focuses on quality measurement from a theoretical and practical viewpoint.
  • Provides an index of different types of assessments and instruments available to measure the quality of childcare centers that serve 0-3 year-old children.
  • Discusses the decisions that should be evaluated prior to taking measurements.
  • Systematizes the information about tools that the reader may use to compare among diverse dimensions, costs and benefits.

The importance of measurement

In recent years, governments mainly focused their efforts on expanding child care coverage for young children (0-36 months of age).  However, we know that quality of these services is low. More importantly, process quality, that is the quality of interactions between children and adults in the classroom are fundamental for children under 3 years of age.

What are governments doing in Latin America and the Caribbean to measure quality?

In general, governments regulate and measure the quality of care services through structural indicators, such as basic infrastructure and the professional profile of caregivers. However, this kind of indicators does not capture information about the processes that affect cognitive, emotional health and child development. They cannot identify areas for improvement in process quality and to monitor changes over time either.

Three steps to measure quality of care:

Before the measurement, we must decide: 

1. The purpose of the measurement, the unit of analysis, the method of data collection, the choice of the instrument.

2. The need for adaptation and contextualization.

3. Cost: licenses, fees, translations , need to adapt , and / or approval of the modified version.

During the measurement, we  have to think about :

1. The training needs.

2. Logistics.

After the measurement, we should plan:

1. The scoring of the instrument, analysis and interpretation of quality thresholds, the use of the data.

2. The frequency measurement – when are we making a new measurement?

We hope this publication will serve as a guide for researchers and professionals interested in translating the discussion on improving child care quality into concrete actions and results. What does your government do to measure quality? How frequently? What type of personnel/staff conducts this measurements? Let us know by leaving a comment below or mentioning @BIDgente on Twitter.

Florencia López-Boo is a senior social protection economist with the Social Protection and Health Division of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

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