Summer 1993 // Volume 31 // Number 2 // Feature Articles // 2FEA4

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Training for Quality Child Care

With the majority of parents now in the work force, much of the care and education of young children is being done by child care providers. Extension educators can address the need for quality child care arrangements by forming coalitions of interested agency personnel to work together in presenting educational programs for child care providers. In Nebraska, program success has also been accomplished by carefully considering both the barriers and benefits to participation. Educating child care providers is a valid role for Extension educators in addressing family issues.

Linda Boeckner
Extension Nutrition Specialist/Program Coordinator-Home Economics
Cooperative Extension
University of Nebraska-Scottsbluff
email address:

Patricia A. Hendricks
Extension 4-H Youth Specialist
University of Idaho-Moscow

Patricia E. Steffens
Extension Family Life Specialist/Program Coordinator-Home Economics
Cooperative Extension
University of Nebraska-North Platte

The demand for child care arrangements continues to escalate in the United States. Recent national statistics indicate that 51% of all women between the ages of 18-44 years who had given birth in the previous 12 months were back in the labor force. This is an increase of 31% from 1976. The most common child care arrangements for children under age five are: care provided in another home (36%); care provided in family home by a father, relative, or nonrelative (30%); and care at an organized day care or nursery school facility (24%).1

An examination of care situations reveals that child care providers in family day care settings often have little or no training in child care beyond personal parenting experiences.2 These child care providers have educational needs in child development, discipline techniques, nutrition, health and safety, and business management topics that Extension is uniquely qualified to address. In the absence of other opportunities for this training, Nebraska Cooperative Extension and with other states have begun to target child care providers for educational programs.3 Such activities fall well within Extension programming activities for family and economic well-being and under the new National Initiative, Plight of the Young Child.

In designing innovative Extension programs, others have outlined critical factors for success.4 They include: focusing on a specific practical problem of an identified client group, using time effectively by prioritizing activities, cooperating and coordinating activities with other agencies, eliminating the potential barriers to the educational activity, and placing emphasis on the rewards or benefits to be received from the activity. This article outlines how Nebraska Cooperative Extension used many of these recommended success factors to design a program that addresses the growing concern for quality child care in the state. It focuses on the development of one Extension district's educational program targeted to child care providers, and its growth into a statewide program.

Identifying Needs

Before 1987, child care providers in Nebraska's Panhandle typically lacked regular, coordinated opportunities to participate in educational activities dealing with early childhood development. It was especially difficult for care providers to find learning opportunities within reasonable distances and at suitable times. Extension educators began preliminary steps to address the need. They identified 237 licensed child care facilities including 179 day care and group day care homes, 22 day care centers, and 36 preschools in the Panhandle area through the Nebraska Department of Social Services. Child care providers in those facilities were all in need of educational opportunities to meet state licensing requirements for continuing education. Day care center staff were required to have 12 clock hours of continuing education related to early childhood education per year; preschool staff annually needed two hours of continuing education for each full day taught weekly; and day care home providers enrolled in the Child-Adult Care Food Program were required to attend nutrition inservice training each year.

Because living in predominantly rural communities meant they had little contact with other caregivers, providers from the Panhandle weren't interested in home study. On-site evaluations by licensing specialists and child care food program consultants indicated care providers preferred to gather at a central site for a day-long activity that would satisfy many of their educational requirements. Providers believed meeting with other caregivers would be beneficial for sharing experiences, problems, and solutions. To avoid conflicts with the typical work schedule of a child care provider, a Saturday conference was selected.

District Conference Planning

Nebraska Cooperative Extension is recognized as a major educational outreach organization, particularly in rural Nebraska, and thus assumed the coordinating role for providing educational conferences for child care providers. To enhance marketing, Extension faculty involved many of the agencies that were most concerned about the need for child care education. The conference planning group consisted of Extension home economists, director of a regional community action agency that manages the HeadStart program, director of the regional child care food program, a licensing specialist from the Nebraska Department of Social Services, and a preschool educator.

The planning group's conference goal was to help parents, preschool, day care home, day care center, and HeadStart staff increase knowledge and skill in child care, share expertise and experience, and develop new resources for children.

The conference committee determined that fees shouldn't prohibit the target audience from attending, and the schedule should be flexible enough to meet the needs of all participants- from day care home providers to preschool teachers. The planning group set fees for the initial conference at $12 a person to cover direct operating costs and speaker fees. They designed a conference schedule including general and concurrent sessions to maximize the educational offerings at each conference.

To encourage professionalism, the conference committee provided a certificate of attendance and offered a minimum of five hours of continuing education credit for each conference. Child care providers who managed exemplary programs were invited to be presenters for some of the concurrent sessions, thus enhancing the professional image of the target group. The time allowed for sharing among participants was also designed as a practical way to share new standards of professionalism.

A total of 176 child care providers, educators, and presenters participated in the first early childhood education conference in Nebraska's Panhandle in October 1988. Since then, two early childhood conferences have been held in the Panhandle each year. By attending two conferences each year, it's possible for child care providers to meet most of their annual educational requirements. The four district conferences held thus far have reached 390 different child care providers, child care educators, and preschool/child care center directors. Nearly one-third of the participants (n=124) have attended more than one conference.

Developing the Statewide Program

At the time of the initial Panhandle conference in 1988, Nebraska Cooperative Extension was adopting priority initiatives for program emphases. One initiative included a child care provider training component. The state issue team used the district model to stimulate the development of other child care provider conferences throughout the state. Evaluations from the district conference participants were useful in identifying additional workshop topics and supported the need for sharing sessions among the caregivers.

Following the Panhandle district pattern, a coalition of interested agencies, including Extension, worked together at each conference location to arrange child care provider training. Community college personnel, state and local social service workers, family services agency personnel, day care center and nursery school directors, food service workers, and others have participated. The value of the local coalition lies not only in bringing together those who have direct responsibilities for child care, but also allows a continuing resource for providers in the community.

The site planning committees arranged with the Nebraska Department of Social Services, the state licensing agency, to obtain credits for the majority of the sessions offered. Criteria for granting credits included whether the session directly related to improved child care as opposed to topics that provided benefit only to staff such as stress or business management.

Expansion of the program throughout the state indicates that it's meeting an expressed need of care providers in Nebraska. In the statewide program, child care provider training was offered at eight Nebraska sites in 1989, 11 sites in 1990, 13 sites in 1991, and 15 in 1992, for a total of 47 conferences. Groups in some locations are offering repeat conferences, offering a variety of topics, and developing indepth sessions on selected subjects for those who have attended previously. The addition of child care at some conference sites increased attendance and removed another barrier to participation.

Participant Feedback

In 1990, a random sample telephone survey of 10% of child care conference participants from 10 sites across Nebraska (n=97) was conducted six months after the conference. Survey data were qualitatively analyzed and organized according to emerging themes. An evaluator determined the frequency that each theme was mentioned in response to a question.

In response to the question, "What were one or two ideas that have been most useful to you?" respondents indicated suggestions for improvement in curriculum (n=28), food service (n=19), and positive discipline (n=16) as the top three categories. The top three categories for making change as a result of the conferences were curriculum (n=64), positive discipline (n=42), and building children's self-esteem (n=36).

As a result of the conference, providers reported recognizing children as individuals rather than treating them as a group. They said they had more realistic expectations of children's abilities and planned more appropriate activities. Providers also reported trying positive discipline rather than punishment. Several of them cited specific instances in which children responded with improved behavior. Preschool teachers and directors reported that some of the sessions didn't address their needs as much as those of day care providers. This suggested the need to provide more accurate descriptions of sessions to help participants choose appropriate sessions.

With the majority of parents now in the work force, much of the care and education of young children is being done by child care providers. Extension educators can address the need for quality child care arrangements by forming coalitions of interested agency personnel to work together in presenting educational programs for child care providers. In Nebraska, program success has also been accomplished by carefully considering both the barriers and benefits to participation. Educating child care providers is a valid role for Extension educators in addressing family issues.


1. Joan C Courtless, ed., "Who's Minding the Kids?" Family Economic Review, IV (March 1991), 25-27.

2. E. M. Ritter and D. T. Welch, "Reaching and Teaching: A Study in Audience Targeting," Journal of Extension, XXVI (Fall 1988), 5-7.

3. K. K. Chenoweth, "Starting a Child Day Care Business," Journal of Extension, XXIX (Summer 1991), 31.

4. K. A. Astroth and B. S. Robbins, "No Time for Modesty," Journal of Extension, XXIV (Spring 1986), 21-24; M. A. Casey and R. A. Krueger, "Critical Factors for Successful Programs," Journal of Extension, XXIX (Fall 1991), 11; and P. Favero and D. K. Heasley, "Managing Innovative Programs," Journal of Extension, XXIX (Spring 1991), 25-27.