Santiago is 2 years old. His mother is a street vendor and can’t take care of him. That’s why she takes him to daycare every morning at 8:00 am, and picks him up every night at 6:00 or 7:00 pm. This scene could take place in Managua, Buenos Aires, Tegucigalpa or Asuncion.
Like Santiago’s mother, many women don’t have the luxury of wondering if the activities offered by the daycare are good for their children’s development, if it is a safe enough space, if the daycare provider is well-trained, and if the food is nutritious. However, it is the duty of the governments in our region to ensure that the youngest children receive certain minimum levels of care. But what are these minimum levels?
My colleague M. Caridad Araujo and I organized a meeting of 15 international experts (psychologists, economists and public policy experts) to try to come up with a relatively simple answer to this question. According to this group of experts, the six critical elements determining daycare quality for the 0-3 year-old age-group in Latin America and the Caribbean are:
- Provision of nutritious food in a safe, hygienic environment.
- In Santiago’s age-group, the child-provider ratio should not exceed 6 children per caregiver or teacher.
- There should be a system in place to regularly monitor quality of care in all daycare centers.
- Efforts should be made to offer teachers and caregivers professional development activities and training.
- Quality interactions between the care providers and the children: the frequency and depth of interactions are among the most important determinants of a child’s future development.
- Provision of sufficient activities and materials for play, and a stimulating environment.
Of course, I can’t tell you not to send your child to daycare if these six things aren’t present; since in most cases, there aren’t any other options (I’ll talk about this more in my next blog post). But we have to stay alert to ensure that the organizations charged with childcare policy and oversight (social development or welfare ministries, institutes for children and families or education ministries) are evaluating these six topics in their policy agendas; and most importantly, they are trying to ensure that daycare providers comply with them.