Maintaining staff-to-child ratios is a very important part of a high-quality childcare environment. In fact, the number of children allowed per staff member is regulated. While these ratios vary across states, infant ratios are usually four to five babies per teacher. That number typically increases as the children get older and more independent. Most centers will have at least two teachers per classroom.
As someone who’s worked in childcare, I know just how important it is to have a second teacher. As soon as one adult leaves the room, something crazy inevitably happens and chaos breaks out. The kids immediately know the adult is outnumbered. Not only that, it’s so important to be able to have a conversation with another adult when you spend your entire day with children who can’t talk yet!
Why are staff-to-child ratios important?
Safety: Staff-to-child ratios are important for safety reasons. It’s very challenging for one person to safely care for 15 toddlers since this age group needs almost constant attention. Even as children get older and more independent, supervision helps prevent children from getting hurt. It can be very hard to meet the needs of young infants if there aren’t enough teachers. Imagine the logistics of feeding, diapering, and nurturing eight babies. It would be nearly impossible for one person to keep all of them clean, fed, and happy all day.
Abuse Prevention: Having at least two adults working with a group of children is important for abuse prevention. If a child accuses one teacher of abuse, the other adult can vouch for that teacher if he or she is innocent. In addition, working with another adult to manage the classroom can reduce some frustration and help teachers stay calm. In infant classrooms, it can be hard to listen to babies cry all day. Having another adult to help is extremely important for preventing neglect and shaken baby syndrome in these classrooms.
Relationships: Children thrive when they have strong relationships with their caregivers. It’s impossible to develop relationships if a teacher is caring for too many children. By keeping staff-to-child ratios low, staff members will be able to bond and nurture the children they care for. This is another reason why ratios are lower for younger children. Infants need to be held and comforted much more than three-year-olds.
Quality of care: When there are enough teachers in the classroom, they’re more likely to be able to implement a high-quality curriculum to help children learn and grow. Progress and growth happens when caregivers can shift their focus from simply managing the classroom to teaching. For very young children, this means their teachers are able to model and help them develop relationships with their peers. For older children, it means starting to learn letters and numbers. None of this is possible unless there are enough teachers in the classroom.
There are many reasons why a childcare center may have classrooms out of ratio. A second teacher may be scheduled to start work at 8:00am, but too many kids show up by 7:30. One teacher may have called in sick. A parent may have requested care on a day their child doesn’t usually come. While all of these things are inevitable and happen from time to time, centers should be prepared and have back-up plans in order to comply with ratio requirements at all times.
Tips for Centers
- Hire substitutes who can fill in for sick teachers.
- Analyze scheduling and look for patterns. Is one classroom constantly over ratio by 7:30am? Have a teacher start earlier.
- Hire float teachers who can help with prep time and breaks for teachers. These staff members can also fill in for sick teachers.
- If a parent requests a schedule change, check ratios first before agreeing.