A vital part of a quality childcare environment is child-to-staff ratios. These ratios, or the number of children who can be cared for by one educator, vary by state but are critical for keeping children safe. Ever since the pandemic hit, childcare providers have been in short supply, with many facilities and home-based centers shutting down and never re-opening. In addition, recent staff shortages have made it harder and harder to find quality teachers. All this has combined to create a crisis and lack of childcare spots where needed most. Some states have proposed changing the child-to-staff ratios to allow staff members to care for more children at a time. While this may create more spots for children, it can also create a host of new safety issues for providers.
Safety is one of the main reasons child-to-staff ratios are important. Logistically, caring for many small children is a lot of work, and it can be physically impossible for one person to meet the needs of many infants or toddlers. Increasing the number of babies per adult can result in babies crying for too long because caregivers aren’t able to feed or change them when needed. Toddlers and preschoolers can get into trouble with their friends or get hurt if there aren’t enough adults to supervise them.
Increasing the number of children per adult also increases teacher stress. Working in childcare is already a very stressful job. Adding more children can make teachers more likely to snap and potentially abuse a child out of anger. It can also contribute to teacher burnout, which will only make the teacher shortage worse. With many different employers competing for quality employees, teachers may have other options for jobs with less stress.
While it may seem like a good idea to simply add more children to a childcare facility, especially if the state-mandated ratios have changed, careful consideration should be given to this potential solution. If children are ultimately less safe and teachers are burning out faster, increasing ratios won’t help the childcare crisis at all.