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Don't Say "Day Care:" Why Rhetoric Is Important to Early Childhood Education

By Adriana Lopez
The Children's Movement of Florida

When some people hear the phrase "day care," they might imagine toddlers playing with toys or napping under the supervision of an adult whose primary job is to make sure they are safe. The term suggests babysitting young children, to allow parents to go work or get a much needed break from their 24/7 caretaking role.

However, what goes on in many of these programs today is so much more than mere babysitting. That's why some early-childhood leaders argue that "day care" is not the best term to use. Instead, they say "child care" evokes a broader connotation-still a safe environment, but also one focused on stimulating brain development in young children and engaging them with structured, curriculum-based teaching, similar to the K-12 schools they will soon be attending.

It's more than simple semantics. Early childhood leaders believe that terminology can have an effect on how these child care programs are viewed by private funding organizations and political leaders.

Looking at the history of child care in this country, we realized that the term "day care" may devalue the hard work and lives devoted to embedding child care programs into our society. The interest in child care was apparent as early as the late 1800s, as evidenced by the Model Day Nursery at the 1893 Chicago World Fair. As more low-income women started to work outside the home, the need for such centers increased.

Starting around the turn of the century and into the 1930's, the government addressed those needs in a different way - by providing mothers with special "pensions" so they could afford to stay home with their children instead of taking low-paying jobs. Such a policy aligned more with traditional gender roles.

Tides began to change during the Great Depression, when the Works Progress Administration established the Emergency Nursery Schools to provide jobs for unemployed teachers. Years later, during World War II, Congress passed the Lanham Act to support the need for child care programs for women working in "war-impact areas."

After the war and through the 1950s, people believed that private charity could provide an adequate number of these care programs. However, the Inter-City Committee for Day Care of Children formed in 1958 with the goal of working closely with federal agencies such as the U.S. Children's Bureau and U.S. Women's Bureau to gain support for publicly funded child-care programs.

Although two bills were passed in the mid-1960s that linked federal support for child care policies, their main goal was to decrease the number of families on welfare by offering a safe place for children of working parents.

But federal funding for further expansion of child care programs came to an abrupt stop when President Richard Nixon vetoed the Comprehensive Development Act of 1971, which resulted in subsidized child care only for low-income families for years.

As a result of economic reforms during the Reagan Administration, child care programs received a big boost from the Child Care and Development Block Grant of 1990, which allocated $825 million to individual states to serve all children regardless of socio-economic status. And that type of progress continues today.

The use in the term "child care" may also be a better way of explaining why child care can cost up to $15,000 for one child annually in the United States, according to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal. Researchers say a first-rate learning environment leads to better cognitive and language development during the first four years of life, proving that support for high-quality child care for all children is an excellent investment that needs to be continued in the years to come.

The Children's Movement of Florida has long advocated for quality early learning programs to improve childhood development. This year, one of our primary agendas is to reduce and eventually eliminate a 50,000-child waiting list in a state funded program called School Readiness. SR provides subsidized child care to qualified low-income families who work or go to school as a way to provide better lives for their children.

The Children's Movement believes strongly in emphasizing that "child care" refers to a structured and enriching early learning program staffed by credentialed teachers, whose goal it is to prepare children for kindergarten and beyond. Florida residents are encouraged to contact their legislators and tell them that early childhood education and health care must be the state's top priorities. Doing this will help give these children the best chance of success in school and life.

The Movement also believes using the term "child care" instead of "day care" is a sign of respect for the thousands of preschool teachers who tirelessly devote themselves to the proper development of our state's children. "Child care" recognizes the fact that their job is much more than babysitting.

If rhetoric can have such a huge impact on the well-being of our children, imagine the amazing possibilities that lie ahead.

Adriana Lopez interned at The Children's Movement of Florida in the summer of 2016. She is a sophomore at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. Adriana graduated from the Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove, where she was an accomplished track athlete.