What is a staff-to-child ratio, and why is it important in child care?

A staff-to-child ratio is a measure of the number of children for whom each child care provider is responsible. The staff-to-child ratio is usually stated in numerical terms. For example, if each caregiver cares for 10 children, the ratio is 1 to 10.
In general, lower staff-to-child ratios are one indicator of a higher-quality program because a child care provider can be more sensitive and responsive to children’s needs if he/she is responsible for a smaller group of children.
Child care regulations in most states define the maximum legal staff-to-child ratios for that state. These ratios differ from state to state. Most states allow higher ratios than research indicates are ideal for children. Both legal and ideal staff-to-child ratios differ depending on the children’s age. Because younger children need more direct one-on-one interaction, response, and supervision, staff-to-child ratios should be lower for younger children than for older ones.