Rewrite of TX Child Care Standards Is Key Opportunity to Improve Early Education & Child Health

From now until Spring 2016, we have a critical window of opportunity to improve the quality of Texas child care and the early childhood experiences that serve as a foundation for the rest of kids’ lives. Every six years, the Department of Family and Protective Services, which oversees child care licensing for child care centers and residential child care homes, is required to undertake a comprehensive review of child care minimum standards.

There is still time to provide input to DFPS on the specific minimum standards you believe need revision to ensure all licensed child care settings protect the safety, health, and well-being of children.

We want to highlight two key areas where research shows that current licensing standards are lacking: 1) child to caregiver ratios, and 2) nutrition and physical activity.

Improve Child Care Ratios to Improve the Quality of Early Care and Education

During the last legislative session, the Governor and legislators from both sides of the aisle came together to pass a high-quality pre-k bill because they know that early childhood education is the foundation for children’s success. That bill only addressed public school pre-k, which typically serves four-year-olds. The work of ensuring that child care providers are also high-quality falls to DFPS.

As our joint policy statement with TAEYC points out, research shows that child to caregiver ratios in child care centers is one of the most important indicators of quality. Yet some Texas children – particularly those who are from low-income families and have the greatest need for positive experiences in child care – are stuck in large classes.

If a single child care teacher is responsible for 11 two-year-olds – as permitted by DFPS standards – it is difficult to prevent injuries, adequately manage the classroom, monitor children’s whereabouts, and provide individualized attention during this important period of brain development. A teacher may walk into this classroom in the morning with big plans to read books with the children, play counting games, or supervise engaging art projects. But faced with 11 two-year-olds and no help, inevitably she’ll spend most of the day just taking them to the bathroom or changing table and trying to prevent too many shoving matches.

When child care teachers are assigned smaller classes or share a class with a well-trained assistant teacher, they can give the children the attention they need to ensure they are on developing the social, emotional, behavioral, and academic skills needed to succeed in elementary school and beyond. The time is now for Texas to improve child care ratios.

Improve Child Care Nutrition and Physical Activity Standards

The revision process also offers Texas an opportunity to improve nutrition and physical activity standards for child care centers to ensure children receive nutritious food and, in partnership with families, develop healthy eating and physical activity habits.

Research shows that children develop nutritional preferences and physical activity habits long before they enter the K-12 system, where most obesity prevention efforts take place. Nationally, the rate of obese children ages 0-5 is 14.5 percent, and obese children are four times more likely to be obese adults than non-obese children.

For working families who need full day child care, the provider may be offering a majority of the child’s weekly nutritional intake. Given the important role early educators play in children’s early development and specific recommendations in this report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, and the National Resource for Health and Safety in Child Care and Education, it is surprising that our state’s child care nutrition standards are so notably lacking. 

In alignment with Healthy Child Care Texas and research-based recommendations, below are ten smart steps Texas can take to improve minimum nutrition and physical activity standards in child care settings:

1. Require that nutrition training be added to child care directors’ annual training hours to learn about nutrition requirements for young children and how to engage parents to promote good nutrition and physical activity practices at home.

2. Require providers to have in place policies outlining strategies to educate children and families on good nutrition practices for young children.

3. Require providers to have in place menus that provide children with a variety of foods with different colors and textures including whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

4. Require programs that allow parents to bring in their children’s own food (meals or snacks) to provide information to parents regarding the nutritional needs of young children and sample healthy menus.

5. On days that providers serve meals, require that they have milk, vegetables, and fresh fruit available for children who bring lunches from home.

6. Set policies that ensure healthy snacks are available for school-aged children who arrive for after school care.

7. Require at least 60-90 minutes (over an 8-hour day) of daily structured or unstructured physical activity or free play time that promotes physical movement.

8. Ensure that children are not permitted to view television, DVD or other media during mealtimes.

9. Require that the outdoor environment include natural elements (plants, trees, rocks, etc.) and partial shade to encourage physical activity.

10. Ensure providers have space (excluding bathrooms) where mothers can comfortably breastfeed their babies or express breast milk.

Early childhood is a critical time for families and child care programs to work together to build children’s healthy eating habits and prevent obesity. With nearly 10,000 child care centers in the state of Texas, the child care licensing revision process offers us a valuable opportunity to improve nutrition and physical activity standards in early education settings and enhance other obesity prevention strategies already working in Texas.

[Update: Summaries of the current standards and the corresponding Code are available here. Comments to DFPS should cite the particular Code in question.]

The Process Ahead

While the DFPS child care licensing officials recently wrapped up their public stakeholder meetings, proposed revisions can still be submitted via email to: MSC@dfps.state.tx.us.

Over the next year and a half, DFPS will:

· Convene stakeholder workgroups in January and February 2016 to advise DFPS on proposed rule changes;

· Publish the proposed rule changes in the Texas Register in August 2016;

· Receive public comments on proposed revisions from August to September 2016; and

· Adopt new rules in January 2017 to go into effect in March of 2017.

Texans Care for Children will be actively engaged in the revision process, and we look forward to working closely with you on our shared goal of ensuring all children and families in Texas have access to affordable, quality early education opportunities.