One of the biggest complaints most early care and education professionals have is the lack of respect for what they do. They are responsible for our youngest and most vulnerable children, whose bodies and brains are developing at an astounding rate… more so than at any time in their lives, except for, perhaps, prenatally.
And yet, the important work of child care is passed off as insignificant– something anyone could do. Furthermore, it is often compensated at less than an oil change and child care workers aren’t expected to have as much in the way of training as the local oil change guy.
In spite of the continued dissemination of research indicating the critical importance of the first five years, there is still a huge information disconnect for the general public, parents, and legislators.
Traditionally, caring for children was considered “women’s work,” requiring no training, except perhaps being a parent, but that wasn’t necessarily a prerequisite either. “Babysitting,” as it was called, was done in the home for a number of children, while the caregiver went about her daily routines.
Many times, care was provided by a neighbor or relative and compensation was minimal or care was simply traded. Children were “watched,” fed, given chores, some toys, a nap, and sent home.
Later, this arrangement became known as “daycare,” when working moms needed a place for their children to stay during their working hours. Some daycares moved outside the home and into centers, so more children could be cared for by more caregivers in one location.
Because this ‘center-based” type of care was not in a home, the caregivers were not preoccupied with household chores and could spend more time with the children. In many instances, both in-home and out-of- home child care provided warm and loving care, but the providers were not trained in child development and how to educate young children.
Gradually, however, things began to change. In-home caregivers, as well as those in center-based programs, began to seek training in order to provide children with what they needed for optimal health, safety, and development. This started the shift from a basic care job to a profession.
Today, child care can be licensed, regulated, or accredited. Providers earn certificates, credentials, and degrees in Early Childhood, and embrace lifelong learning. Their work is purposeful, child-focused, and based on developmentally appropriate practice. They educate the whole child, which encompasses relationships and collaboration with families and the community.
But, for all their diligence, dedication, and effort, there is still a carryover of image from the past. It isn’t unusual to hear people refer to child care as “babysitting” or “watching children,” even though this is definitely not what goes on in a quality program. In fact, sometimes you will even hear child care providers themselves use these terms to describe what they do! They are outdated, demeaning, and simply not accurate.
Even referring to our important work as “daycare” is inappropriate. Using this language sets our profession back decadesand perpetuates misunderstanding about what we do and why we deserve respect and a worthy wage.
As Early Childhood professionals, we owe due diligence to upholding our work and reputation. Make a point to politely, yet pointedly, correct those who casually use inappropriate terms in reference to early care and education. Take time to explain what it is you do, the training you have, and that you care for children, not “days”… and don’t want to be lumped in with the small number of inferior providers who don’t take this profession seriously.
If each and every Early Childhood professional would take this attitude and mission, more people will gain better understanding, respect our work, and demand quality child care for their children. I guess it’s like the old saying goes… “Let it begin with me.”