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Infant and Toddler Child Care Quality

Authors: J. Lee Kreader, Daniel Ferguson, and Sharmila Lawrence
Publication Date: August 2005

With over half the nation’s infants and toddlers in regular, nonparental child care, the quality of that care is a priority concern for policymakers. Many studies show that high-quality child care supports the positive social, emotional, and cognitive development of young children. The research summarized in this policy brief identifies factors that tend to predict higher quality within arrangement types—family child care, center care, and relative care—and describes the range of quality found in each type.

Although different studies measure child care quality in different ways, many researchers group quality measures into two categories, structural and process. Both examine factors that support the responsive and reliable relationships with caregivers so essential for the healthy development of infants and toddlers. Structural measures—child-staff ratio and group size, caregivers’ general education and specialized training, their tenure and income—look at aspects
of arrangements that support positive child-adult relationships and child development. Process measures directly examine children’s experiences, including caregivers’ interactions with the children—their attention, warmth, and responsiveness. Though less direct, structural factors are less costly for researchers to study than process factors, which require direct observations. Unlike process factors, structural factors can be regulated by policymakers.

Many instruments are used to measure quality in infant and toddler child care arrangements (see the Resources Section for a list of frequently use ones). Most are designed to examine the global quality of child care arrangements—producing a composite rating based on observations of routines, practices, facilities, and equipment—and utilize both process and structural measures. Some are more exclusively composed of process measures. Researchers continue to develop new measures and instruments in this young field of inquiry.