The Child Care Challenge

January 14, 1994

"High-quality, affordable, readily available day care? Forget it. It can't happen," announced a recent Wall Street Journal opinion column. The answer proposed by the article's author, Michael K. Meyerhoff, was summarized in the headline: "The Best Day Care? A Parent at Home." Millions of working parents have a message for Mr. Meyerhoff: Forget it; parents are not at home and haven't been for years. In Maryland, 77 percent of children under 12 have a mother in the work force.

Quality, affordable child care may seem a pipe dream, but this country has risen to challenges before. A stay-at-home parent may seem ideal for child-rearing, but children can also thrive in well-run day-care settings.

While there is a long way to go before high-quality, affordable, readily available day care is the norm in Maryland, this state is helping to lead the way in establishing guidelines for day care programs and the training that workers should receive. Last year Maryland was cited by Working Mother magazine as one of the country's 10 best states for child care. Moreover, a history of support from state government and recognition of enlightened self-interest by private business have helped advocates shepherd regulatory requirements through the inevitable political thickets. Not least, as parents learn they should be able to expect quality child care, market forces enter the picture as well.

The single most important factor in determining the quality of any child care program is the training of the workers. There is a vast difference between 'babysitters" and well-trained, effective child care professionals. Recently, a task force with representatives from many parts of the child care community came together to address that issue. The report, released late last year, lays out a blueprint for professional development and training for child care professionals.

There is still a long road ahead before children who need child care get the kind of programs they need. But child care is here to stay. It's time to make the most of it.

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