Teach Your Children Well

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Weinhold's theory was supported last month when the National Institutes of Health released the results of a ten-year, ten-city study on daycare. The study found that the more time kids spend in daycare, the more likely they are to exhibit behavioral problems; in fact, children who spend more than thirty hours a week in daycare are three times as likely to be defiant, aggressive and disobedient than those who spend less than ten hours a week there.

There are approximately 165,000 kids enrolled in some 1,800 daycare centers and with 5,200 in-home daycare providers in Colorado, according to the Colorado Office of Resource and Referral Agencies (CORRA). And because daycare has become a way of life for so many families, the high employee turnover rate is a critical problem, Weinhold says. "When young kids are exposed to so many different caregivers, it becomes difficult for them to attach. Every time a new caregiver comes in, they attach, and when that person leaves, they detach," she says.

The turnover rate for employees of daycare centers in Colorado ranges, on average, from 27 to 40 percent, according to a recent CORRA study. Child-care workers leave because of the low pay (a teacher with three to ten years of experience earns an average of just $18,000 a year), but also because they get tired of being disciplinarians.

"In our first year and a half, we had an 85 percent turnover," says the Renaissance Center's Danuser. "Every two to three weeks, we were replacing someone. It has slowed down since then, but we're still losing a staff member every three to four weeks. A lot of the teachers don't know what they're getting into. They don't realize the behavioral problems there'll be and how those will affect their ability to teach."

And since it's so hard for daycare centers to attract and keep employees, daycare directors often choose to expel difficult kids rather than risk losing employees, says Deb Lawrence, executive director of Child Care Connection, a child-care resource and referral agency serving El Paso, Teller and Elbert counties.

"Some kids have been kicked out of daycare four or five times before they're four or five years old," she says. "Some kids are being kicked out of up to ten child-care programs."

Last fall, the state human services department and the Center for Human Investment Policy (CHIP) sent surveys to 6,000 licensed child-care providers to determine the severity of mental health problems in daycare. The more than 1,000 daycare centers that responded serve about 26,000 kids in an average month; they reported that 1,466 children had left daycare in the previous year because of emotional or behavioral problems.

As for their caretakers, the study reported, "Respondents cite high levels of stress, feeling frustrated, feeling exhausted, and feeling challenged as the major impact of working with children with emotional or behavioral problems. Some teachers say they feel 'inadequate' or 'tired,' or they see themselves as 'a failure' or 'out of control.'"

CHIP researchers also visited many of the daycare centers where they'd heard "stories of toddlers being 'expelled' from every licensed child-care center and family child-care home in the community due to uncontrollable temper tantrums. They were hearing from early-childhood teachers about preschoolers who had raged through the classroom causing thousands of dollars of damage and causing adults to seek medical attention for injuries sustained trying to contain these youngsters. Other teachers were relating stories of depressed toddlers and increasing numbers of two- to five-year-olds being prescribed stimulant drugs to control hyperactivity and inattention....CHIP found that 84 percent of respondents put mental health, as evidenced by emotional or behavioral problems, at the very top of their list of concerns for young children."

These findings confirmed what state human services officials had already been hearing from daycare providers, and even before they got the results back, they decided to use money from their own budget to bring mental health services into more daycare programs. In January the office doled out $80,000 in grants for eight programs serving daycare centers in a number of counties.

The human services department's Golden is happy to see such programs in more daycare centers, but she says that $10,000 per program is hardly enough to provide the kind of therapy that's really needed.

El Paso is the only county in the group that started providing mental health services before the state stepped in to help; the Child Care Response Team, which is run by Lawrence and has been in existence since September 1999, consists of seven mental health specialists, child behaviorists, social workers and occupational and speech therapists who work in more than eighty daycare centers. The $300,000 a year that's needed to run the program comes from several grants and donors; the extra $10,000 from the state will be used to provide therapy for 25 families. "If you do any kind of intervention with a child, it's much more successful if the whole family takes part," Lawrence explains.

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Julie Jargon
Contact: Julie Jargon