Brigid Schulte reported for the Washington Post yesterday that “the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Thursday morning that it will for the first time impose tough national health and safety standards on all child-care facilities that accept government subsidies.” Schulte, whom was one of the panelists this past Monday at The New America Foundation discussing the “hell of American daycare,” tells us that HHS made the announcement after a growing number of huge-profile media reports of children who have died or been injured in child care.
In the above-linked article, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius tells us that “we frankly can’t wait any longer” since “fifteen years have passed since we last updated our child-care rules — years of tragic stories of children lost and families devastated because there were no safety standards in place to protect them.” Proposed regulations will focus on the health and safety of 513, 000 child-care centers and family homes that accept subsidies for the 1.6 million children who receive them through the federal Child Care and Development Fund, but will not focus on improving the quality of care that our earliest learners receive. Despite this fact, Schulte tells us that “HHS officials said they were spurred to action by emerging science on how critical the early years are for brain development and early success.”
I’m not quite sure where HHS has had its head buried in the sand, but last I checked the science of how critical the early years are for success, especially school success, is not “emerging.” My own research, on which I based the curricular aspects for the Operation Ready By 3 Infant-Toddler Curriculum, has been available for almost 20 years! Just one perfect example is Hart and Risley’s study about the staggering differences in vocabulary knowledge and use that low- and middle-income children demonstrate when compared against their high-income peers. That study alone was published in 1995.
We have to do a better job with our early learners right now. Whether it is up to HHS, the Department of Education or private entities, local communities and charitable organizations (as suggested in a recent blog post of mine), we need to move quickly on not only improving the health and safety of children, which of course must come first and foremost, but also on giving infants and toddlers the right language, social, emotional and sensory stimulation they need to be successful in school and life. The phrase “time is of the essence” cannot be used too forcefully when it comes to giving our earliest learners the best right from the start.