The moment you pick up your children from the daycare center represents a window of opportunity to learn about how they spent their day without you. You can eagerly (and sometimes somewhat anxiously) ask the caregiver: Did my daughter drink her milk today? Did she take a nap after lunch? Did she quarrel with any of her classmates?
However, even with that, what do you really know about the care your children are getting?
We know that the quality of processes, and particularly the frequency, type, and nature of the interactions between children and caregivers, is what most influences the development of children. At the same time, these are the things that are most difficult to observe – for us as parents, for obvious reasons, but also for the personnel themselves who work at a child care program.
How Are We Doing in the Region?
Several studies show that interactions between children and caregivers in child care centers in the region are often of very low quality. This finding is supported by one of the tools most commonly used to measure this dimension of quality: the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS). This instrument, developed in the United States, uses a scoring system from 1 to 7, with the highest score indicating better quality of interactions.
The domain entitled “pedagogical support for learning” – which measures the way that caregivers guide children’s learning, foster their cognitive and linguistic development, provide them with feedback, and promote their participation – tends to be the greatest challenge for the region. For example, the Cuna Más Program in Peru, which provides care for children between 6 and 36 months old, received a score of only 1.8. In Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, for children from 3 to 5 years old, scores in this same domain did not exceed 1.4.
Are Programs in the Region Measuring the Quality of Child Care Processes?
These results show that concentrating our efforts on ensuring the quality of services that children are getting is a priority. To achieve it, programs in the region need to periodically measure their quality. Having a snapshot of the quality of care over time provides useful information for the personnel of these programs that can be used to guide and improve their practices.
However, currently there are few programs in the region that regularly and systematically monitor the quality of their centers. Moreover, the few countries that measure the quality of their services almost always do so through the use of structural indicators, such as basic infrastructure and caregiver profiles, and rarely opt for including process variables.
If the Quality of Processes is so Important, Why Isn’t it Measured?
According to a recent study by the Inter-American Development Bank published in Plos One, one of the main reasons why processes are not being measured is because there is a lack of adequate instruments to monitor the quality of services offered by programs in the region regularly and at scale. The study, conducted in 404 centers in Ecuador, used the four instruments most typically applied in the last two decades to measure the quality of child care centers, with a focus on interactions between children and their caregivers.
The first observation of the researchers is that up until now all of the existing instruments used to measure the quality of these centers have been developed in the United States. For this reason, it is very important to carefully adapt and validate these instruments when they are applied to a very different context, such as can be the case in Ecuador.
The second observation is that the same variables that are vital to ensure quality care for small children are also the variables that are most difficult to capture. Adequately measuring the quality of interactions is time-consuming and costly, and requires the interpretation and judgment of experts. Given the challenges in terms of economic and human resources faced by programs in the region, the use of tools such as CLASS for systematic, frequent, and large-scale monitoring of quality is hardly feasible.
Where Do We Go from Here?
If we want programs to ensure the quality of their services, it is critical to research alternatives that are feasible for the region – that is, tools that take into account the specific context, challenges, and needs of the programs, while at the same time incorporating key indicators of the quality of processes.
Ideally, these tools should be sufficiently simple that they can be administered during a routine observation of service quality undertaken by the personnel at a child care program. The tools should also be able to provide feedback that can be used by the program as a mentoring and support strategy for the caregivers.
Without a doubt, there is growing interest in improving the quality of child care centers among Latin American governments, who are undertaking various efforts to implement the measures needed to achieve it.
For example, in Argentina the Ministry of Health and Social Development’s National Secretariat for Childhood, Adolescence, and Family has been working for three years with the Inter-American Development Bank to create an instrument that would allow this measurement process to be carried out in a way that is culturally appropriate, and sustainable at scale and over time. In Uruguay, the Ministries of Education and Culture, and of Social Development, and the National Public Education Administration, just finished piloting an instrument to measure classroom quality in 50 child care centers.
In general, however, the region still lacks instruments that are adapted to its context and sufficiently viable economically to be employed consistently over time and at the necessary scale. Helping programs develop tools to evaluate their quality and cost-effectiveness, and that can be implemented at scale, should be a priority so that children receive the kind of care that will enable them to reach their full potential.
If you know of similar initiatives to measure quality of interactions, tell us in the comments section or mention @BIDgente on Twitter.
Read this article in Spanish.