An article from Jean's book, Peace with Child Care

While managing Creative Learning Center, Jean McCracken spent a great deal of time talking on the phone with parents seeking an appropriate program for their children, but for whom she did not have available enrollment space.

The key information and encouragement Jean would offer any parent in that situation calling Green Hills Child Development today is found in the article below - published in 2007 in Western New York Family and Little Rock Family magazines. For the two-hour coffee table discussion, Jean's book is available through

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How a Quality Program is Structured to Protect Your Child

—adapted from the book Peace with Child Care, by Jean Byler McCracken

All parents of preschoolers in day care have something in common. As they drop off their little one each morning and drive away to work, they need to know their infant or young child will not only be safe, but also nurtured in their absence.

Any child care arrangement capable of offering parents real peace of mind will have certain basic structural elements built into its program. These elements are in addition to the usual checklist items. Most parents know to ask about things like adult/child ratios, staff training, and age-appropriate activities. But there are other essentials that parents may not know are important. Here are some of the many observable, tangible components that make all the difference in a center’s ability to sustain quality services over time.

Appropriate Caregiver Support

Child care is demanding work, both physically and emotionally, and it doesn’t pay very well. Providers constantly juggle the need to pay staff sufficiently to retain them with the other important need of keeping tuition accessible to parents. Caregivers who are treated with genuine respect by a director who acknowledges the value of individuals’ contributions are more likely to stay longer.

Staff turnover in child care is one of its greatest challenges. Even in the best programs, people get married and move away. Or they go back to school to finish their degree. Often, however, turnover occurs because a program is structured so poorly, with caregivers so thoroughly taken for granted, that no one can tolerate the pressure for long.

When a director establishes a respectful, caring atmosphere, staff members naturally desire to support the program’s overall mission. When classroom needs are met consistently, many caregivers will work for at least a year. Your child benefits from having the same teacher until she’s ready to promote to the next class. Few caregivers can spend decades of their work-life in child care, but in an appropriate environment, many do stay several years.

A Written Policy Statement

A strong policy statement assures you that responsible parties have thought deeply about their work. This statement informs parents about how things operate in various areas of organizational functioning. It facilitates an effective working relationship between parents and staff on behalf of children, by protecting everyone’s interests.

One example of an important policy relates to parental support of caregiver rules at pick-up time. Your child’s perception of who is in authority over him naturally changes when you walk in. Unless you and the staff consistently demonstrate that the caregiver is in authority on center premises, his behavior can change dramatically. Your child may sense adults’ resulting uncertainty and begin testing the boundaries of critical safety rules, just to see what will happen. When parents support caregivers’ rules unequivocally, all children in the group are protected.

Whether your program is a family day home or a larger child care center, a policy statement will inform you of what the center needs from you, in order to provide the services you need for your child. Policies provide a window into the mechanics of how a center functions, revealing whether it is run thoughtfully enough to earn your trust.

Respect for Child Care Regulations

Child care is not child’s play. Through the licensing process, new providers are forced to consider important issues they might not consider otherwise. As they learn about the regulations that govern their new business, thoughtful applicants come to understand and embrace the rationale behind the rules designed to keep young children safe.    

A responsible child care provider will value the role state regulators play and will have a good attitude toward them, rather than resenting and resisting their appropriately exercised authority. She will understand that the rules are designed to protect children. It happens that these rules also protect providers and caregivers. A wise provider structures her business in such a way as to ensure regulations are upheld as a matter of routine. So first and foremost, be sure the center you’re considering has an operating license, with a good record of compliance with the law. Or make sure there’s a state-authorized license exemption.

Choosing illegal, unlicensed child care is dangerous, because accountability is vital. While busy parents are working, the illegal provider—especially one who works alone—is accountable to no one. She knows no state regulator will drop in unannounced to check on her program, so children are without the extra layers of protection licensing provides. Providers with valid license exemptions can voluntarily choose to incorporate standards of practice required of licensed programs, and parents using their services can encourage them to do so.            

Parental Involvement

Strong parental involvement in day care works the same as it does for grade schools. A center that encourages involved parents will always provide a richer—and safer—environment for children than it would without it. Actively support or even participate in your Parent Advisory Board; and if there isn’t one, work with your provider to start one! Your influence and that of other parents will be appreciated by good providers and caregivers. They’ll recognize the benefits of a parent group that is supportive of their work—and watchful.

Take time to learn the rules your center must operate under, and keep your eyes open. Make it your business to stop in unannounced periodically. Don’t expect perfection every day, but take note of any recurring problem and ask questions. At an unannounced visit, consider: Are staff members glad to be here today? Do all children—not just mine—seem confident and content? Is this environment so relaxing and welcoming that I wish I could stay and play awhile?

Governmental regulation of the child care industry cannot adequately protect children without involved parents. It is the parents who come and go from the center each day, applying common sense expectations, who are uniquely qualified to notice and speak up if something seems wrong. And nothing else can lift the quality of care like parents noticing and offering encouraging praise where praise is due. This is how adequate child care becomes good child care, and how good child care becomes great!

Jean McCracken is the retired managing owner of Creative Learning Center—for twenty-seven years one of Nashville, Tennessee’s leading child development programs. She is the author of Peace with Child Care: Secrets to Finding Day Care You Can Trust from a Veteran Child Care Provider. The diaper-bag friendly paperback sells for $19.95 at (Faithwell Press, 2007) ISBN 978-0-9790349-1-6 

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