ELK GROVE VILLAGE, Ill. — A newly updated American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement says access to high-quality early education remains limited, and state quality standards lag behind childcare recommendations by health and safety experts.
Children’s earliest learning environments have a lifelong impact on health, according to the authors of the report, “Quality Early Education and Child Care from Birth to Kindergarten.” Especially for at-risk children, research on high-quality early-childhood-education programs shows lasting positive effects, including cost saving from improved health outcomes.
However, many families have no quality childcare options in their communities. Barriers include inadequate funding and staff education, as well as inconsistent regulations and enforcement. State licensing benchmarks set minimum standards that are usually considerably below the evidence-based recommendations from AAP and other child health and development organizations, according to the report. Quality rating and improvement systems are being implemented in more than 75% of states, the report observes, but they do not always include key health and safety standards.
Among other recommendations, authors of the policy statement urge pediatricians to discuss the importance of implementing guidelines on safe sleep, immunization, safe medication administration, infection control, diet, physical activity, and other health topics in childcare with parents, policymakers, and local programs. Childcare and early-childhood education are crucial to the nation’s children, women, and families and to its economic growth and prosperity, they add. The AAP urges policymakers to increase federal investments in high-quality early-childhood programs.