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The Future of Infant-Toddler Child Care

If we are going to have infant care, then why not create places where babies love to go and we love to have them go?

The field of infant-toddler child care has advanced since the 1960s and 1970s, but it is doing so slowly and with many setbacks along the way. Some form of infant child care will be part of the fabric of American life well into the distant future but, rather than optimizing child care for babies and toddlers, we treat it as if it will go away. In the process, infants pay the cost of our lack of attention. If we are going to have infant care, then why not create places where babies love to go and we love to have them go? Instead of setting our sights so low, why not create places where our children will be amazed, enlivened, and overjoyed each day. Why stop at “Do no harm?”

The following recommendations will help reach that vision.

  1. Build the profession. Separate care by family and friends from educational experiences for infants and toddlers in groups provided by professional educators. Staff at centers and family day care homes will be educators, not babysitters, and will be expected to conduct themselves as paid, credentialed professionals who facilitate learning. The distinction of roles family care and professional educators must be clear and widely disseminated.
  2. Develop a responsive approach to curriculum. Notions of curriculum implementation for infants and toddlers need to change radically from those in current practice. It is not enough to have inadequately trained caregivers providing tender, loving care with attention only to health and safety. Neither is it enough to have inadequately trained caregivers follow a prescribed curriculum without regard to a child’s interest because they don’t feel capable of reading and responding to the child’s cures without the safety net of preset lessons.
  3. Provide training and contemplative time. Ongoing training should be a guaranteed part of any child care system. Competence in adapting to the changing needs of children, in partnering with parents from varying cultures and conditions, and in including children with special needs in all aspects of the program is essential. So is time to think individually, with peers, and with supervisors about their work and the children they are serving so as to make critical adaptations.
  4. Increase the visibility of the payoff of infant-toddler care to the larger community. The importance of the first 3 years and the experiences of children who spend up to 10 hours a day in out-of-home care need to become everyone’s concerns. National organizations, government entities, and programs themselves should become better communicators of the benefits of placing our youngest children in high quality care.

Excerpted from Lally, J. R. (2003). Infant-toddler child care in the United States: Where has it been? Where is it now? Where is it going? Zero to Three, 24, 1.

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