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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The quality of childcare is more important than who provides it, a University of Tennessee professor of child and family studies said Friday.

Dr. Jan Allen said whether childcare is provided by a day care center, a relative, a baby-sitter or in someone else’s home is not as important as the quality of care being provided.

“Just because a child is with its grandparents, if the grandparent is not able to provide responsive, warm and developmentally appropriate caregiving, then that’s not a good experience,” Allen said.

“Even though the alternative may be placing a child in a day care center with 18 other children, if it is a high-quality caregiver, then that can be a better experience.”

The U.S. Census Bureau recently reported a record 30 percent of 9.9 million children counted in survey are cared for in organized facilities, 22 percent in the home of a non-relative or by a baby-sitter.

Relatives are still the top providers of childcare, but children watched by a relative dropped from 53 percent two years ago to 48 percent, the study showed.

The Census Bureau figures came just days after the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development reported that day care doesn’t hurt children’s attachment to their mothers.

Allen said less is known about the quality of unlicensed, unorganized childcare from relatives than is known about other types of care. Still, most parents would rather have a relative care for the child, she said.

“They (parents) feel there is something special about the family bond, and if you can trust anybody, you can trust a relative,” Allen said. “Also, that type of care is usually free or low cost.”

Allen said some parents feel more comfortable communicating with relatives than with day care workers.

“Studies show that consumers of childcare services often don’t know how to pick high quality care, how to ask the right questions and make the observations to know what really goes on in the center,” Allen said. “It’s very different dealing with a director and several teachers in a day care center than it is asking your mother or sister what went on during the day.”

Allen said parents can get information on childcare services by calling the Knoxville Child Care Information and Referral Service at UT, 423-974-8911.

Contact: Dr. Jan Allen (423-974-6273)