Evidence continues to mount that shows the profound influence children’s earliest experiences have on later success. Nurturing and stimulating care given in the early years builds brain structures that allow children to maximize their potential for learning. While high quality early care and education settings can have significant developmental benefits and other positive long term effects for children well into their adult years, poor quality settings can result in unsafe environments that disregard children's basic physical and emotional needs.
Great progress has been made in States to safeguard children in out of home care, yet more work must be done to ensure children can learn, play, and grow in settings that are safe and secure. States vary widely in the number and content of health and safety standards as well as the means by which they monitor compliance. While there are differences in health and safety requirements by funding stream (e.g. Head Start, Child Care Development Fund, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and Title I), early childhood program type (e.g. center-based, home-based) and length of time in care, there are basic standards that must be in place to protect children no matter what type of variation in program. Until now, there has been no federal guidance that supports States in creating basic, consistent health and safety standards across early care and education settings.
ACF is pleased to announce Caring for Our Children Basics: Health and Safety Foundations for Early Care and Education (PDF). Caring for our Children Basics represents the minimum health and safety standards experts believe should be in place where children are cared for outside of their homes. Use of Caring for our Children Basics is not a federal requirement. Standards on the following topics are included:
- Programs Activities for Healthy Development
- Health Promotion and Protection
- Nutrition and Food Service
- Facilities, Supplies, Equipment, and Environmental Health
- Play Areas/Playgrounds and Transportation
- Infectious Disease
Caring for our Children Basics seeks to reduce conflicts and redundancies found in program standards linked to multiple funding streams. Caring for our Children Basics should not be construed to represent all standards that would need to be present to achieve the highest quality of care and early learning. For example, the caregiver training requirements outlined in these standards are designed only to prevent harm to children, not to ensure their optimal development and learning.
Caring for our Children Basics is the result of work from both federal and non-federal experts and is founded on Caring for Our Children: National Health and Safety Performance Standards; Guidelines for Early Care and Education Programs, Third Edition Visit disclaimer page , created by the American Academy of Pediatrics; American Public Health Association; and National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education with funding from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau. The Office of Child Care, Office of Head Start, Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary and Interdepartmental Liaison for Early Childhood, and the Maternal and Child Health Bureau were instrumental in this effort. Although Caring for our Children Basics is not required, the set of standards was posted for public comment in the Federal Register to provide ACF with practical guidance to aid in refinement and application.
Quality care can be achieved with consistent, basic health and safety practices in place. Though voluntary, ACF hopes Caring for Our Children Basics Visit disclaimer page will be a helpful resource for states and other entities as they work to improve health and safety standards in licensing and quality rating improvement systems. ACF also hopes Caring for Our Children Basics will support efficiency of monitoring systems for early care and education settings. A common framework will assist child care licensing agencies in working towards and achieving a more consistent foundation for quality upon which families can rely.
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