W hat leads to parents' and providers' satisfaction with child care? Britner and Phillips (1995) looked at four areas of home and child care environments as possible predictors of satisfaction for parents and providers: 1) child care as a social support to parents; 2) parent involvement in care; 3) parent-provider agreement on child-rearing beliefs; and 4) parent-provider agreement on what is quality care. Participants in the study were 27 providers from centers and family day care (FDC) homes and 90 parents whose children were in their care.
Higher Overall Satisfaction
In our study, overall satisfaction was high. Center parents and providers and family day care parents and providers were all equally satisfied with structural and interactional aspects of care, like group size and attention to children. For family day care providers and parents, the traditional "quality" factors of licensing standards (e.g., group size) were not related to parental satisfaction.
What Predicts Satisfaction for Parents and Providers?
Studies of parental satisfaction often cite the importance of cost and convenience. Above and beyond those aspects, parents were more satisfied with their family day care arrangement if they viewed it as a source of social support and if they were very actively involved in the center.
Most studies of "job satisfaction" for child care providers find training, love of the work, low levels of stress, and low turnover to be associated with high satisfaction. Few studies have addressed the satisfaction of family day care providers. In our study, family day care providers reported the highest levels of satisfaction with the quality of care they provided if they agreed with parents on basic child-rearing values.
Social Support and Continuity Across Settings
Child care has been compared to an extended family because it often serves as a source of support, especially when parent involvement is common and communication occurs regularly between providers and parents. By giving emotional support in addition to information and services, child care providers can have a role in the well-being of employed parents. Continuity across child care and home environments may reflect similarities or differences in the physical or social environment; behavior toward the child; beliefs about child development; rearing or education; or understanding about the child. Most parents viewed their child care arrangements as a source of informational and emotional support. As a result of feeling supported, parents may experience less stress and be more satisfied with care than those who feel less supported. As such, child care may be more usefully viewed as a social support, rather than a replacement, for the family.
Child-rearing attitudes of parents and care providers represent another area of potential agreement or disagreement between the home and the program. Parents seek out care providers and settings that have similar value systems, priorities, and expectations of what is important to their children. The more parents and providers value the same care and agree on the goals and roles of parents and caregivers, the better the outcomes will be for the child and the greater the satisfaction will be for parents and providers.
Open communication between the parent and the provider will lead to greater satisfaction with the child care arrangement. Parents and providers should discuss what they think is appropriate care, how they believe children should be disciplined, what they think children should do and learn during the day, how they feel about watching television, and what kinds of foods do they believe children should eat. These things are important to talk about when the parent first visits the program, but they are also important to talk about when the child first attends and then again on a frequent and regular basis.
Parents and providers should agree on how they will share information about the child. Will they chat at drop-off and pick-up? Will the provider call the parent on Saturday morning to give an update? Will parents and providers send each other notes? An agreed upon method is important so that parent and provider can share important information about the child and can help the child care program and the home environments work together to help the child grow and develop.
Most early education training programs discuss how to set-up systems and develop contracts with parents. This may in part explain why providers with more training seem more satisfied. This finding provides another argument in favor of specialized training for child care providers.
The best predictor of parents' satisfaction was whether they viewed their care provider as a source of social support. Thus, it is crucial for providers to understand that in additional to meeting the needs of children, they play a big role as emotional supports for parents. Communicating with parents about their personal needs, issues, and ideas may go a long way toward easing their concerns and reducing their stresses, which in turn should improve satisfaction with the child care experiences for parents, providers, and children.
On the basis of our work, I have emphasized the need to look at home and child care environments as interconnected settings. Child-rearing is, in fact, a collaborative effort between parents and child care professionals. Rather than comparing the "home" and "child care" influences on child outcomes or ratings of satisfaction, it is important to look at the joint effects and interactions between these environments. Satisfaction with child care arrangements, if not the "quality" of the care, depends on the continuity of the two settings in which children are functioning, learning, and developing.
Recommended Websites On Child Care Quality, Access and Choice:
The Future of Children: Financing Child Care (1996)
The Future of Children: Long-Term Outcomes of Early Childhood Programs (1995)