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Do the Math for Daycare!

Information on how to calculate whether it makes financial sense to put kids in daycare is easy to find elsewhere.  Instead, we chose to focus on the arithmetic that *really* matters to children in daycare:
  • Infants in Daycare
    Consider the amount of physical care and attention a baby needs--say 20 minutes for feeding every three hours or so, and 10 minutes for diapering every two hours or so, and time for the care giver to wash her hands thoroughly and sanitize the area after changing each baby. In an eight-and-a-half-hour day, then, a care giver working under the typical four-to-one ratio* will have 16 diapers to change and 12 feedings to give. Four diaper changings and three feedings apiece is not an inordinate amount of care over a long day from the babies' point of view.

    But think about the care giver's day: Four hours to feed the babies (4 babies X 3 feedings X 20 minutes), two hours and 40 minutes to change them (4 babies X 4 changes X 10 minutes). If you allow an extra two and a half minutes at each changing to put them down, clean up the area, and thoroughly wash your hands, you can get by with 40 minutes for sanitizing (4 babies X 4 changes X 2 1/2 minutes). (And if you think about thoroughly washing your hands 16 times a day, you may begin to understand why epidemics of diarrhea and related diseases regularly sweep through infant-care centers.)

    That makes seven hours and 20 minutes of the day spent just on physical care (4 hours feeding + 2 hours 40 minutes changing + 40 minutes sanitizing)--if you're lucky and the infants stay conveniently on schedule.
    Obviously, such a schedule is not realistic. In group infant care based on even this four-to-one ratio, babies will not be changed every twoDaycare Math and Daycare Schedule hours and they will probably not be held while they're fed.

    -- Utne Reader, May/June 1993, Dorothy Conniff, daycare worker/administrator for 20 years, p66-67
    Category = Caregiver, Quality

    *What is the origin of the so-called "ideal 4:1 Child-to-Adult ratio"?
    The above calculations show it's impossible for a caregiver adequately take care of so many children.
    Some have attributed this ratio to Fire Safety Codes, but this is equally can a caregiver possibly simultaneously evacuate 4 squalling babies from a burning building?

    Further, Karl Zinsmeister notes, "Consider that the birth of triplets is literally considered an emergency situation which automatically qualifies two parents for caretaking assistance and special social aid. Yet in hired day care, the very best institutional situations involve three or four infants assigned to a single caretaker. This is what gets called "high quality care."
    -- "The Problem with Day Care" by Karl Zinsmeister, The American Enterprise, May/June 1998
  • Toddlers in Daycare:
    While older preschoolers in day care require somewhat less maintenance, they also get crowded into larger groups—typically from eight to 15 youngsters per adult. This also results in inadequate care. The average toddler makes 10 overtures* an hour to his primary caretaker, according to studies. A day care worker responsible for 10 toddlers would thus be faced with an overture* every 35 seconds**. Obviously most will be ignored or bluntly cut off. The assistance, praise, rule-teaching, discipline, and reinforcement that one- to three-years-olds need will often be unavailable.
    Overture - A child's request to the caregiver for attention.
    "The Problem with Day Care" by Karl Zinsmeister, The American Enterprise, May/June 1998

**Mr. Zinsmeister rounded-off his calculations for toddlers.  Actually, the exact figure should be:
(10 toddlers) X (10 overtures/hour) X (hour/3600 seconds) = 1 overture every 36 seconds.  

  • In General: 
    "...In a decadent society where the children are no longer a priority...
    Forget the's all in the numbers.  It's accounting for $Dollars$, not about what's best for children.  In other words, we can't put the raising of decent, educated, respectful children into quantitative numbers, so that's not part of the equation.  Just dump them in daycare 7 A.M. - 5:30 P.M..."
    -- Karen De Coster, "You Mean We Need to Consider the Children?", on the Blog, 21-Jul-03

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Last updated:  11/20/2011

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