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Report says Arizona’s child care system needs work

Arizona ranks 24th out of states

Child care centers in Arizona have made mild improvements in helping children become school-ready and protecting their health and safety, according to a study released by a national nonprofit group that monitors the field.

But in the same report, the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies warned states that more needs to be done.

Arizona ranked 24th out of states in the care its centers provide to children. A quality-rating program spearheaded by the First Things First initiative hopes to boost child development at the state’s at-home and child care centers.

That center directors are not required to have college degrees and lead teachers need only a high-school diploma or GED were mentioned as some of Arizona’s weaknesses in the report.

The report, released Thursday, ranked states in both the oversight and regulation they give child care centers. Arizona fell short in one of five oversight categories because child care centers are inspected once a year. The association recommends centers are visited four times a year by licensing, health and fire inspectors.

The state also fell short in one of 10 regulation benchmarks by not meeting staff-child ratios set by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

The Department of Defense, District of Columbia, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Maryland were the top five entities in the report; Nebraska, Louisiana and Idaho received the lowest scores.

Although mild improvements have been made, the association concluded in its 2009 report that current state child care center regulation and oversight benchmarks fall short in protecting the health and safety of children along with promoting child development.

The average score was 83 out of 150 points, which the agencies association said is equivalent to an “F.” Arizona scored 87 points, or 58 percent of total points possible.

When discussion turns to teachers being required to have bachelor’s degrees or centers having smaller staff-to-child ratios, Bruce Liggett, executive director of the Arizona Child Care Association, worries parents could carry the burden of paying for those standards.

“The cost of child care is already prohibitive for lower- and middle-income families,” Liggett said. “So when people start suggesting overnight we should start requiring a bachelor’s degree, who is going to pay for this?”

The Office of Child Care Licensing has received a copy of the report and noted a few inaccuracies. One of Arizona’s weaknesses highlighted in the report is that family-care providers can care for up to five unrelated children for pay without a license. However, that number is four or fewer children for pay, according to the department. Also the report recommended that inspection and complaint reports be made available online, which is something the department says it already provides.

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