Early Childhood Programs

Promoting the Development of Young Children in Denmark, France, and Italy Gao ID: HEHS-95-45BR February 3, 1995

Although demand among working parents for high-quality, early childhood programs is increasing, concerns remain about the nation's early childhood programs. The participation rate in these programs is much lower for children from low-income families than for other children. Some of these programs are inaccessible because they are unaffordable or their hours of operation are inconvenient for working parents. Other programs suffer from low-quality services. In the context of upcoming congressional deliberations on early childhood programs and related issues, this report provides information on the ways in which three European countries--Denmark, France, and Sweden-- provide early childhood programs to large numbers of children, promote high quality, and finance such programs.

GAO found that: (1) many more 4-year-old children attended public early childhood programs in the other countries than in the United States; (2) children in these countries had higher participation rates because their parents believed in the benefits of early childhood programs, and public programs were more accessible and convenient to parents; (3) public early childhood programs in the other countries have numerous quality standards, including specialized teacher training requirements; (4) early childhood program teachers in the other countries are encouraged to prepare young children for life using overall balanced approaches that teach the physical, emotional, social, and cognitive skills that children must eventually develop; (5) teacher turnover rates in the other countries were lower than the teacher turnover rates for U.S. programs; (6) unlike many U.S. early childhood teachers, all the teachers in the other countries were public elementary school teachers and received pensions, leave, and health care benefits; (7) although child-to-staff ratios in Denmark and Italy were generally within the range recommended for U.S. programs, child-to-staff ratios in France were higher; (8) the other countries' national and local governments substantially subsidized their early childhood programs; and (9) staffing costs per child varied among countries because of differences in child-to-staff ratios and staff training and experience.

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