Child care task force makes recommendations and outlines needs

A new report on the state and well-being of the University's child care services includes five major findings and numerous recommendations, including the need for a director of child care to oversee programs across the University, and an exemption of Penn State child care centers from the University's AD-39, a policy that requires higher ratios of adults to children than what is required by existing child care regulations.

The 93-page report, created by a Presidential Task Force on Child Care at Penn State, can be found at www.psu.edu/ur/2014/PTFoCCaPS_012113b.pdf online.

Penn State President Rodney Erickson, who commissioned the 14-member task force in October 2013, said the report was "comprehensive, thoughtful and included considerable benchmarking of data with peer institutions. The report reflects the needs and perspectives of parents, employees, and child care researchers who are looking for the best care and education of our children."

"We will carefully review these findings and recommendations, along with feedback from the Faculty Senate, to determine the best course of action now and in the long-term." Erickson said. "It is clear that we want to remain a leader in early childhood education and continue to meet the demand for high-quality child care."

The first finding listed by the task force is: "The Penn State community cares about the care and education of young children." While not surprising, this finding is the foundation of not only the report, but also the University community's desire to remain in the forefront in the area of child care services, research on issues related to children, and also in the teaching of child development and child care.

"The task force wanted to make it abundantly clear that early childhood education and care, and anything we do related to childhood research and teaching must be a priority," said task force Chair Jacqueline Edmondson, associate vice president and associate dean for Undergraduate Education. "Penn State is a national leader in these areas and in our efforts to align with federal and state priorities."

The other findings, which all include numerous recommendations, are:

Some of the recommendations attached to the five findings include providing incentives for faculty to undertake research in early childhood education and care; establishing extended and flexible hours at University-affiliated child care centers; creating campus-level advisory committees; exploring different models and cost structures; and fully implementing Penn State's HR-48, a policy that spells out the University's procedures related to quality child care.

One key element of HR-48 is the coordination of child care programs across the University, which calls for the hiring of a director of child care services to ensure quality, consistency and compliance of Penn State programs with existing guidelines and regulations. In addition, the report asks for University-affiliated child care programs for an exemption to AD-39, meant to ensure adequate supervision of minors while on University property. Because child care programs are already subject to stringent state and national regulations related to staff-to-adult ratios, the additional policy has been deemed unnecessary.

To collect its findings, the task force reviewed existing policies, practices and historic documents, conducted a University-wide survey of parents and administrators, held open discussions across Penn State, visited Penn State child care facilities at various campuses, and gathered input via email and telephone. The task force not only looked internally at Penn State's own operations, but also at peer institutions and their child care offerings.

The financial concerns of students and some staff who have children enrolled in University-affiliated child care programs was an area of focus for the task force, which noted that parents were dissatisfied with the high cost of care and the need for more flexible options. About 10 percent of Penn State families receive subsidies or assistance to help cover child care costs, and a sliding scale for child care fees are in use for University programs. Still, some parents struggle to cover all costs. The task force has recommended that the University explore different models and pricing structures. In addition, the task force noted that a report titled “Managing Work and Family: Views from Pennsylvania State University Grad Students and Postdocs” is currently being drafted by the Family Leave Committee of the Commission for Women. The report is exploring the needs of graduate students for adequate breast-feeding and child care resources and should be available in April 2014, which may provide more insight into the cost issue.

Other recommendations geared specifically toward University Park child care programs include moving oversight of these programs from the College of Health and Human Development, where it currently resides, to a director for child care programs in the Office of Human Resources that would eventually be hired. In addition, the future management of both the Bennett Family Center and the Child Care Center at Hort Woods at University Park requires more study and data collection, according to the report.

Initially, there was a proposed plan by Penn State to shift management of the Bennett Family Child Care Center at University Park to an outside firm. One of the concerns expressed by parents was the firm's ability to keep salaries and benefits for child care workers competitive, without impacting the quality of care. The task force has recommended that no change take place at Bennett at this time. The report also recommends that over the two-year period that remains on the management contract with an outside firm at Hort Woods, the University examine ways to keep compensation for employees at both centers more closely aligned.

A final recommendation related to University Park's two child care centers was to expand collaboration across centers to gain efficiencies in areas such as purchasing, data collection and teacher pool, and to provide an annual documentation of outcomes, impact and costs at each center.

Anyone with questions or wishing to comment on the report is encouraged to contact Edmondson via email at jxe117@psu.edu until Jan. 31.

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For additional information, please contact the College of Health and Human Development Office of College Relations at 814-865-3831 or healthhd@psu.edu.