April 12, 2011

Parent Support for Cornell Child Care Center Rises

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Correction appended

Just months after President David Skorton’s decision to continue the University’s contract with Bright Horizons Day Care despite the Faculty Senate’s recommendation to terminate it, support for the center has risen more than 30 percent, according to a trustee report.

A new survey released by the Cornell Child Care Center reported that 86 percent of parents have seen positive change in the center over the past three months and 97 percent said their children have benefited from attending the center — up from 64 percent in a previous survey, the report stated.

Last April, The Sun reported that the Cornell Child Care Center had accrued 47 violations in the first year and half it was open. In September, the Faculty Senate recommended cutting ties with Bright Horizons, a national chain which runs the Cornell Child Care Center, citing high faculty turnover, poor communication with parents and an eight-to-two infant to teacher ratio. Although this ratio falls within the requirements of state law, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend a six-to-two infant to teacher ratio. In November, Skorton decided to continue the University’s contract.

The center spent the past months “addressing all of the concerns which were brought up last year, according to a statement from Cornell Child Care Center Director Patricia Sinclair.

“Based on Bright Horizons’ actions, the center was licensed for an additional four years which would not have happened if there were still any concerns,” Sinclair said.

According to Brenda Marston, chair of the University Assembly’s child care services subcommittee and library curator in the division of rare and manuscript collections, most of the issues raised have been improved upon.

“Cornell human resources staff have spent a lot of time on site … monitoring the situation,” she said. “As for performance of the Cornell Child Care Center, the results are not in yet … but there are signs the University is taking this seriously.”

The center’s director has undergone additional training and the center has added more staff, Marston said.

“Bright Horizons has sent extra staff to improve the ratios… They have worked to minimize the amount of teachers leaving classrooms,” Marston said. “Kids don’t have to have the disruption of teachers leaving that they’ve bonded with.”

In addition, there has been a lower rate of turnover among teachers. According to Marston, last fall the turnover rate was twice the national average.

“I am most relieved that rate of teacher departures has slowed.  That seems a very good sign,” Marston said. “Teacher turnover rates are a key indicator of quality. It really affects children’s experience. Positive attachments to adult caregivers are really crucial for the healthy development of young children.”

The infant to teacher ratio has increased to eight-to-three, according to David Infanger grad, whose son attends the day care center.

“I have personally witnessed this translate into more one-on-one time with our son, which is an ideal situation — and as of yet, one that hasn’t resulted in an increased tuition,” he said.

The cost of the daycare may increase for some parents when a sliding fee scale is implemented to allow more families to afford the day care center, according to Marston.

“Lower income families will pay less and higher income families will need to pay more than they do now,” she said. “Our committee is concerned about the impact of statewide funding cuts to DSS and school districts that will affect lower income families’ ability to pay for preschool and child care.”

David Infanger grad, a parent of a child in the center, said the day care center has made steps to improve communication with parents.

“Communication with the parents regarding our child’s daily activities and upcoming events has been improved via paper handouts and email, respectively, and multiple opportunities have been made to gather parent feedback and discuss results of these surveys,” he said.

Jennifer Sawyer, director of library alumni affairs and development, who also has a son enrolled in the daycare center, echoed Infanger’s sentiments.

“I think the center’s administration is more responsive to parent’s concerns,” she said. “The center is responsive whenever I express a concern.”

Prof. Linda Nozick, civil and environmental engineering, whose son and daughter both attend the day care center, said that the center was improving prior to Skorton’s decision.

“I’ve witnessed improvement since my kids both joined that center. I think there has been a continuing steady stream of changes. There wasn’t a discrete jump as a result of that report,” she said. “It’s part of getting a center of that size up and running. … Everything should have continual improvement, whether it’s the 7/11 or Cornell University. It’s the same thing.”

Nozick added that she has recommended the center to colleagues. Sawyer also said that she witnessed improvement before November and would recommend the center.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the University Assembly recommended terminating the University’s contract with Bright Horizons Day Care. In fact, it was the Faculty Senate that made that recommendation.

Original Author: Joseph Niczky