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Sue Hegland, Family and Consumer Sciences, (515) 294-4616
Kathlene Larson, CD-DIAL (515) 294-3452
Lesia Oesterreich, Family and Consumer Sciences, (515) 294-0363
Kevin Brown, News Service, (515) 294-8986


AMES, Iowa -- Publicly funded Iowa child care programs, such as Head Start and Shared Visions, provide employees with the best salary and benefit packages, according to an Iowa State University study.

Susan Hegland, associate professor of human development and family studies and co-author of the "Iowa Early Care and Education Directors' Survey," said the stability of such programs fosters academic advancement and encourages development of language and social skills.

"The average child caregiver in Iowa earns less than an animal caregiver or a convenience store clerk," said Hegland. "The need to support their families and obtain basic health care services is driving dedicated, competent caregivers out of the field. And we're going to pay for that loss in future remedial educational services needed to help children learn to read."

The Iowa Early Care and Education Professional Development Project, a statewide consortium working on the professional development of child care providers, contracted the Iowa State study. Hegland and Kathlene Larson, with Community Development-Data Information and Analysis Laboratory (CD-DIAL) at Iowa State, conducted the study.

Hegland said a tight state budget doesn't negate the need for reform.

Although few for-profit Iowa child care centers offer even basic benefit packages, public programs often provide health insurance, retirement pension plans, maternity leave, and paid release time for training. The programs also generally require higher education and experience levels, according to Larson.

The combination of higher pay with benefits also has a positive impact on retention. Publicly funded programs experience an average 10 percent turnover, compared to 39 percent for some for-profit programs.

"It is not uncommon for a child to experience a change in caregiver two or three times each year," said Lesia Oesterreich, extension early childhood specialist and a member of the consortium. "High turnover or consistent loss of a teacher or primary caregiver undermines a child's emotional security and seriously impacts learning."

Paying more for a year of child care than they do for a year of college at an Iowa public university, Iowans have a strong stake in improving working and educational conditions in the industry, Hegland said.

"As Iowans look for the cause of declining academic skills in the state's children, attention is being paid increasingly to the impact of preschool experience on children's readiness for academic success," said Hegland. "Nationally, there is a growing acknowledgment that literacy begins at birth. The preschool child without rich language and literacy experiences enters kindergarten at risk for academic failure."

Hegland notes these ways to improve quality in early child care programs:
  • Provide release time for employees to get paid training.
  • Create a system that rewards employees for completing training programs, such as providing pay incentives or advancement opportunities.
  • Work to increase wage levels and benefit packages to attract quality employees.
  • Increase state regulation and oversight of the industry to improve quality.
The full report can be found at http://idea.exnet.iastate.edu/idea/marketplace/cd-dial/.


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