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Child Care


Amy Harris-Solomon

Amy Harris-Solomon


Child care is a broad term used to describe any number of arrangements or settings where the primary responsibility is caring for young children. There are as many different settings as there are definitions of quality in child care. The number of young children under the age of five who are cared for during part of the day by adults other than their custodial parents has increased dramatically since 1980, due in large part to an increase in mothers joining the workforce.

According to the 2002 Quality Counts survey conducted by Education Week, approximately six out of every ten children, or almost 12 million children, age five and younger, are being jointly cared for by parents and early childhood educators, relatives, or other child-care providers.

While many parents may prefer to stay home with their infants or young children, this is not a financial option for most. The United States, unlike many other nations, does not have a paid parental leave plan for employees after the birth of a baby. This forces many families to return to work immediately and necessitates the need for weighing child-care options. Parents are forced to make child-care choices based on family financial resources, the availability or location of child care, hours of operation, or other factors not necessarily associated with quality. It is not uncommon to hear of a mother calling child-care centers to get on waiting lists before calling family members to share the joyful news that she is expecting. Waiting lists for quality programs can be years long, and some families may never gain entry despite all their prior planning. Many parents pay application fees at multiple centers in hopes of getting in somewhere. This can be costly, with application fees ranging from $25 to $150 or more annually.

Types Of Care

There are several types of child care available to families of young children, and there are quality indicators associated with each. In-home care is one type of arrangement that allows the child or children to remain in their home environment. In this model of care, the provider either comes to the home or lives part-or full-time in the family's home. Frequently, a relative is the person providing the care, and in this situation it is not required that a child-care license be obtained. Families with low to moderate income levels often choose in-home care, with grandparents caring for multiple children of varying ages at one time.

Higher-income families may have the option of hiring an au pair or a nanny to provide in-home care. While there are no licensing requirements for being an au pair or a nanny, there are interview processes and agencies that can assist with this process. Typically, au pairs or nannies provide more than routine child care, often assisting with daily household activities, including running errands, shopping, doing laundry, fixing meals, and cleaning house.

The care of the child or children is the responsibility of the provider in much the same way as that of a parent. Quality-of-care indicators might include a child's overall development, health, and happiness, as defined and measured by the parent and provider. There are no overall standards related to fee structure, roles, and responsibilities, especially in the case of relative caregivers. Payment for services is dependant on factors such as whether the person providing care is receiving room and board and/or other benefits, and whether the person is a family member doing child care as a favor or as a family obligation.

Family day homes offer group care to young children in another person's home. This is often a choice families make based on either the desire to keep their child in a more typical family-friendly environment (compared to a child-care center), or on finances, since a family day home may not be as costly as a center-based program. The adult-to-child ratio may be the same, but the environment more closely resembles that of a family's home.

Each state has standards for family day homes and regulations regarding licensing. Unlike in-home care, which allows an unlimited number of related children, family care requires licensing if children from more than one family are present. Individual states set their own system for monitoring these day homes, and assessment scales are available for measuring quality of care and facilities. One commonly used tool is the Family Day Care Rating Scale, devised by Thelma Harms and Richard Clifford in 1989. This rating scale assesses the quality of care related to organization of space, interactions between adults and children (as well as adults with other adults, such as other professionals or parents), schedules for young children's activities, and provisions for children and adults.

Child-care centers offer another option for working parents or primary caregivers of young children. There is great disparity in child-care centers, ranging from where they are located to the fees they charge. Centers may be located in churches, at universities, in corporate settings, or in independent child-care buildings. These settings may be in urban, suburban, or rural communities. Fees are based on sliding scales determined by a family's income, and scholarships may be available if a family meets certain income criteria established by the agency providing care. Requirements vary from center to center in regard to the qualifications of staff and the program director.

Choosing Child Care

One of the greatest ways that centers differ is in their philosophies of child care. Many child-care centers follow what is considered developmentally appropriate practice for young children, or best practices, as established by the organizations and professionals in the field of early childhood, while some centers do not. While licensing standards are required for child-care centers, these standards are often minimal, and are generally focused on health and safety issues rather than good-quality practices with young children. These are only a few of the challenges a family encounters when seeking child-care services outside the home.

Families will weigh all the options for care when considering what works best for their individual child, children, or family. Every family seeking child care has its own unique set of circumstances and needs, priorities, and concerns regarding its children. Quality child care that is available everywhere and is standardly priced would serve a larger community, rather than being a luxury for only those who can afford it. Money does not necessarily translate into quality care. There are several high priced centers or child-care providers that provide less than high quality services for young children. So how does one determine quality standards of care when family situations are so unique, and when there is such disparity in need?

Indicators Of Quality Care

The importance of the first three years of life in a child's development is clear. Brain research from the last decade of the twentieth century shows that children are learning from the moment of birth, and that the early years provide the essential building blocks for later learning. It is imperative that these early experiences are of high quality, and that children are given every opportunity to succeed. Early childhood specialists, organizations, and researchers have focused much attention on what constitutes quality care for infants and young children.

Defining high quality care is challenging, though there is a general consensus among early-childhood professional organizations and child-care licensing agencies regarding the categories to be included when evaluating quality. There are a multitude of child-care checklists available to assist families in seeking quality-care choices, as well as a multitude of provider checklists to assess the quality within their own programs.

The following issues may be considered when assessing quality of care: (1) the physical setting or environment; (2) learning activities or daily routines; (3) interactions; (4) staff, including ratios of adults to children, qualifications, and training; (5) health and safety issues; and (6) parental involvement. Quality is addressed here as it may be measured in a child-care center, as opposed to in-home or family group child-care settings.

Physical environment . The physical environment should be appealing, bright, and cheerful for young children. There should be plenty of space for children to move around, and areas should be designed to separate quiet play from active play, including in outdoor play areas. Inadequate space for the number of children creates difficulties for following the routines or does not allow enough open space for play. Child-care regulations stipulate the minimum space allowable based on the number of children enrolled. Space should be suitable for the activity or materials to be used. For example, if children are playing in a dramatic play center, there should be ample space available to carry out the activities or routines of the center, such as pretend shopping with counter space for a toy register, groceries on shelves, and room to move around and pretend shop without children bumping into each other. If space is not available to freely move about, the environment is not properly arranged to allow children to express themselves and play safely. It is important for materials to be available on a child's level, to promote independence in play. A variety of learning centers (i.e., home living, manipulative play, block area, book corner, and other age-appropriate centers) offer children opportunities to engage in a wide range of learning opportunities.

Daily activities and routines . Children learn to predict what comes next through consistent routines. Daily activities that allow children to be engaged in meaningful activities and to have some control over their environment will foster a child's choice-making and problem-solving skills. Adults should actively arrange the environment to allow for independence in young children, and activities should be designed to stimulate children in all areas of development, including social, emotional, physical, adaptive, cognitive, and communication domains.

Activities and routines must be appropriate for the age and developmental levels of the children being cared for, and individual needs of children should be considered in program and planning decisions. High quality child-care centers will employ adults that are respectful of children's interests and supportive, as well as actively involved in helping children resolve conflicts and problems without utilizing punitive behavior strategies.

Interactions . Positive interactionsthose that indicate a healthy respect for children and adultsare another indicator of high quality in child care. Adults in a high-quality program listen to and talk to young children and their families. They are available and responsive to the children's wants and needs, and understand the importance of development and how it impacts children at different stages. It is important that they genuinely like young children and strive to help them learn skills such as cooperative play and to foster positive peer interactions. They also understand how relationships develop, and take responsibility for the part they play in making positive partnerships with families of children in their care.

Staff qualifications, training, adult-to-child ratios. State child-care licensing agencies offer minimum guidelines regarding appropriate ratios of child-care providers to children. National licensing organizations, such as the National Association for Education of Young Children (NAEYC), and professional organizations, such as Zero to Three, are generally more conservative in the numbers they recommend as best practice for group size and adult-to-child ratios, and offer good rationales for using smaller numbers. High-quality relationships between teachers and young children have been directly linked to better classroom social and thinking skills in subsequent grades.

The Cost, Quality, and Outcome research project, conducted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, the University of California, and Yale University, produced an executive summary in June 1999 that evaluated the effects of child care on a child's later performance in school. The overall results indicate that: (1) the quality of child care is an important element for preparing young children for school readiness; (2) high-quality care early in life continues to have an impact on children as they move on in school; (3) children who are traditionally considered at risk for developmental delays due to low income or other environments show more positive gains from quality child-care experiences than other children; and (4) early relationships with teachers continue to influence children's social development as they move through elementary school.

Programs vary in the qualifications required for employing staff. Child-care providers have a variety of experiences and training related to working with young children. Quality indicators include individualized training or staff development for caregivers, support available for in-service training, benefits packages that support employees, CPR and first aid training requirements, formal and informal observations of adult caregivers, and caregivers knowledgeable in child development, both typical and atypical.

Health and safety . High-quality health and safety practices require ongoing evaluation and assessment. It is important to keep a facility or environment clean and free of hazards. Materials should be routinely cleaned and checked for safety. Safety precautions must be established, and policies regarding medication, hand washing, diapering or potty training, and storing cleaning materials out of reach must be adhered to. High-quality programs have emergency plans in place for any medical emergency, weather-related emergency, or unplanned for situations. Parents should be informed and knowledgeable about these plans.

Parent involvement . Parents are a child's first teachers, and generally, parents know their children best. High quality programs recognize the value of including parents, who are made to feel welcome and are encouraged to be involved on whatever level they are comfortable. Parents give input to the child-care program, and they are allowed to visit whenever they choose. Positive relationships between caregivers and parents are an indicator of quality in child care. Communication is open, respectful, and nondiscriminative. Parents feel comfortable sharing information because they understand they are in a partnership with the provider. Additionally, parents are linked to other service providers or programs in the community that may benefit their family.

A 1994 Carnegie Corporation report refers to the problems of the nation's youngest children and their families as "the quiet crisis." The report states that approximately half of America's young children start life at a disadvantage due to risk factors that include substandard child care. In the early twenty-first century, the well-being of many children is still in jeopardy due to inadequate child care.

See also: Early Childhood Education; Literacy, subentry on Emergent Literacy; Parental Involvement in Education.


Bredekamp, Sue. 1988. Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children From Birth Through Age 8, expanded edition. Washington, DC: National Association of Education of Young Children.

Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center. 1999. The Children of the Cost, Quality, and Outcomes Study Go to School. Executive Summary. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center.

Harms, Thelma, and Clifford, Richard. 1989. Family Day Care Rating Scale. New York: Teachers College Press.

Lally, J. Ronald; Griffin, Abbey; Fenichel, Emily; Segal, Marilyn; Szanton, Eleanor; and Weissbourd, Bernice. 1995. Caring for Infants and Toddlers in Groups: Developmentally Appropriate Practice. Washington, DC: Zero to Three.

Quality Counts. 2002. "In Early Childhood Education Care: Quality Counts." Education Week 17:89.

internet resource

Carnegie Corporation of New York. 1994. "The Quiet Crisis." <>

Amy Harris-Solomon


The need for child care in the United States increased dramatically in the last two decades of the twentieth centurya direct result of a large increase in the percentage of mothers in the workforce. In 1965 only 17 percent of mothers who had children under the age of one were in the labor force. By 1991, however, 53 percent of this group were working outside the home.

The Quality Counts 2002 report, published in Education Week, estimated that 11.9 million children, or six in ten children under the age of five, were enrolled in some form of child care during the previous year. In the United States, families are not offered extensive parental leave following the birth of a child, and often, due to financial constraints, mothers or both parents must return to work soon after a new baby is born, generally within six to eight weeks. More than half of all mothers return to work within the first year after a baby's birth.

The Cost Of Care

Many of the families who need child care also require some financial assistance. Child care comes in many forms, and there is not a standard arrangement or fee based on the age of a child or a family's circumstance. The cost of care may be associated with the type of care provided, such as infant care, toddler care, preschool care, or care for children who have special needs or those who are considered at risk due to environmental or other factors.

Infant care and toddler care are usually more expensive than care for a preschooler or a school-age child, due to the number of adults required per child. In general, younger children require more adults to provide care. Rates may also vary from provider to provider based on location (rural or urban), reputation, hours of operation, population served, and requirements for teachers. However, there is no way to equate the quality of care a child receives with the costs associated with that care.

The expenses of child care can impact a budget significantly, regardless of who is paying for the service. A 1994 Carnegie Corporation report states that $120 billion to $240 billion are spent annually on goods and services devoted to the care and education of young children. The average cost for care for one child can range from $40 to $200 per week, not counting application fees, activity fees, transportation fees, late pickup fees, care for special holidays, or days a program is closed and alternate care must be arranged.

The Carnegie Corporation report further states that families who have incomes below $15,000 annually spend 23 percent of their income on child care, while families who have incomes of around $50,000 spend approximately 6 percent of their income on care. It is obvious that the lower-income family is affected more significantly when funding child care. In the United States, nearly one-quarter of the families who have children under the age of three live in poverty, and many are single-parent families. For these families, quality child care at an affordable cost is difficult to find.

The burden of the costs of child care is primarily the responsibility of families. Overall, families pay approximately 60 percent of child care, with the government paying 39 percent and the private sector 1 percent, according to statistics from the Quality Counts 2002 report.

Effects Of Quality Child Care

There is ample research available in the field of early childhood education and child development that supports the importance of enriching and stimulating early experiences in promoting healthy development. The first three years of life are considered crucial, with brain development occurring most rapidly during this period. Parents are often left scrambling to make decisions on what environment is best for their child, and struggling to meet the high price of programs that claim to support these positive early developmental experiences. While there are a growing number of preK programs for preschoolers paid for by state dollars, most of the costs are funded by parents. It is not uncommon for a more elite academic preschool to cost between $3,000 and $10,000 annually.

Research from the Carolina Abecedarian Project underlines the need for high-quality preschool experiences for young children from low-income environments. Of the 100 children studied, half attended preschool and half did not. The children were studied until they reached the age of twenty-one. The children who attended preschool from infancy to age five scored higher on reading measures at age eight, and consistently until age twenty-one, than those children who did not attend preschool. The summary from a 1999 cost, quality, and outcome study conducted by researchers from four major universities confirms the benefits of high-quality early child care for children. In this study, high quality child care was directly linked to later school performance and success in social development throughout the early school years, especially for low-income children.

Funding Options

With more emphasis on quality child-care experiences coupled with the growing need for child care due to the increase in working mothers, options for funding child care are expanding, and creative ways to support the growing need are being explored. The Quality Counts 2002 report discusses how states are seeking new sources of funding for child-care initiatives, including taxing beer and cigarettes or utilizing proceeds from state lotteries.

Some businesses offer employees a form of corporate child care or a flexible work plan to accommodate child-care issues. Benefits are being extended for fathers of newborns, so leave is not exclusively for mothers. This allows families more flexibility in how they coordinate the first few months after a baby is born. Corporations are discovering that on-site child care gives employees peace of mind, allowing for more satisfaction in the work environment and more long-term retention of employees.

In 1996 welfare reform legislation was passed, providing almost $3 billion annually in the form of block grants to the states for low-income families. This money is designed to provide some financial support to single parents in the welfare-to-work program. Single parents (generally mothers) who are enrolled in a full-time work or school program are eligible to apply for these funds to help supplement their income for child-care costs.

Federal welfare funds distributed through the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) exceeded $4 billion in 2001. Additionally, $5 billion was utilized for child-care assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program in 2000. As stated in the Quality Counts 2002 report, the subsidy from the federal welfare monies has had the biggest impact in the growth of state programs. Other programs supported through the federal government include Head Start, Title I, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. These programs offer financial assistance for child care to children from low-income homes or to children who have special needs.

Many states are offering state-funded preschool programs in the early twenty-first century. While these programs are not accessible to every child, they are targeting the population that is most in need of state-funded school-based programs. Some states are moving toward the concept of universal pre-school. Every state provides at least some funding for kindergarten.

States struggle to piece together systems of funding that will at least support the neediest populationsthose who would not be able to afford pre-school experiences without subsidies. Individual programs scramble to compete for available funding sources, often supplementing the cost of child care through grants from agencies (such as United Way), private corporations, or foundations.

Some agencies, due to budgetary constraints, are not capable of offering sliding fee scales or accepting state child-care certificates or scholarships for children who meet income eligibility. Many agencies work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to procure reimbursement for children who meet income eligibility for free or reduced meals. At best, this is a patchwork system for parents, providers, government, and unfortunately all too often, for the children.

The benefits of high-quality care have been proven. In analyzing the system of child care and the funding associated with it, there is a need to further equate quality with expectations for qualified persons caring for young children. People who work in this field in the early twenty-first century are compensated at rates equivalent to people who work in fast-food restaurants and other nonprofessional positions. Teachers are responsible for helping shape the future and enhancing a child's early development. The quality of the environments young children are placed in, and the quality of the people caring for them, can influence their future. If quality is equated to dollars, quality care will only be accessible to the wealthy. Because child care is not locally accessible to all, some children will not receive the advantage of high-quality care. Families and other stakeholders that understand both the need and value of high-quality care will seek these programs for their children.

See also: Early Childhood Education; Welfare Reform.

internet resources

Carnegie Corporation of New York. 1994. "The Quiet Crisis." <>

Carnegie Corporation of New York. 2002. "Guarantee Quality Child Care Choices." <>

Education Week. 2002. "Quality Counts 2002 Executive SummaryIn Early Childhood Education Care: Quality Counts." Education Week 17:89. <>

Welfare Information Network. 1998. "Financial Resources for Child Care." <>

Amy Harris-Solomon

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Child Care

Child Care

Child care has emerged as an important issue for both employers and employees in recent decades. The statistics are telling. In a publication by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau, entitled Child Health 2004, the following facts about working mothers are presented. "In 2003, 63 percent of mothers with preschool-aged children (younger than 6 years) were in the labor force (either employed or looking for work), and 58 percent were actually employed. Of those mothers, 70 percent worked full-time and 30 percent worked part-time. Of women with children ages 6-17, 78 percent were in the labor force in 2003 and nearly all of those were actually employed. Among these employed mothers, 77 percent worked full-time and 23 percent worked part-time." Parents in the U.S. are working outside the home in greater numbers than ever before and the issue of how best to bring up the next generation is one that touches us all.

As early as the mid-1990s a U.S. Department of Labor study observed that, "America has become a society in which everyone is expected to workincluding women with young children. But many of society's institutions were designed during an era of male breadwinners and female homemakers. What is needed is a reform of the institutions and policies that govern the workplace to ensure that women can participate fully in the economy and that men and women have the time and resources to invest in their children." Researchers, child care experts, and working parents have been heartened by the success that some businesses have experienced in their efforts to assist their employees in this area, but the consensus remains that many child care arrangements are inadequate for working parents.

This problem is even more acute for single parents who do not have partners who can carry the childcare load in emergency situations. It is also more prevalent in certain industries; studies indicate that working women in professional occupations (typified by high levels of education and salary) are two or three times more likely to receive child care benefits from their employers than are women who work in service, production, and agricultural occupations.

Child Care Policies in the Workplace

Child care problems have repercussions for employers as well as employees. Analysts have pointed out that problems with child care can be a significant drain on worker productivity, and in some cases can even result in the permanent loss of valued employees. According to some experts, small businesses are particularly vulnerable to such losses, since they often do not have the financial resources to install the on-site child care centers that have proven beneficial to some larger companies in addressing this issue. But observers contend that small business enterprises have a variety of options at their disposal to help their employees deal with the child care issue.

Of course, the first priority for working parents is ensuring that their children are placed in a child care environment that protects them and attends to their physical and emotional needs. Working parents may have different family situations and child care needs but they all voice the same concerns. Parents want their children to be in a safe environment, shielded from the potential dangers and abuses about which they hear so much in the media. When parents believe their children are safe and secure in another person's care, they feel a sense of relief and are able to attend to other matters more fully.

While safety is the paramount concern in selecting a child care provider, parents also look at other tangible quality factors like cleanliness, licensing, staff certification, and curriculum. Many parents expect the day care environment in which they leave their children to be an enriching environment as well, one in which the children learn. Unfortunately, the state of professional child care in the United States all too often leaves much to be desired. As David Whitman remarked in U.S. News & World Report, "the warped dynamic of the child care market is all too plain: There are too many parents chasing too few day-care openings in settings where there is too much turnover of providers who receive too little training and pay." This state of affairs naturally serves to further exacerbate the concerns of working parents seeking to juggle home and office responsibilities.

Intergenerational Care

Changing demographics in the United States have also created a situation wherein increasing numbers of working people find themselves dividing their time, energy, and financial resources between two sets of care demands. On one end are small children, while on the other can be found elderly parents. This phenomenon has given rise to the still modest but growing success of so-called "intergenerational care" centers, in which working parents who also have obligations to care for their own elderly parents can place both categories of dependents in a single facility, where they will be cared for. Most experts expect that, given the continued rise in participation by women in the work placeand the track record of success enjoyed by inter-generational care programs in hospitals, nursing homes, and child care centersthe concept of intergenerational care will continue to increase in popularity in the business world. In fact, some studies indicate that demographic trends practically ensure the continued growth of intergenerational care facilities.

Given all of these considerations, observers believe that businesses looking to provide some measure of child care assistance to their employees will factor the elder care issue into their analysis of options with increasing frequency. "Companies that aren't doing anything at all probably could not envision doing on-site intergenerational care, or even elder care," admitted one executivewhose company opened an intergenerational care facility for its employeesin an interview with HR Focus. "But we're finding that companies that are either planning or thinking about on-site child care now are rethinking their space [to accommodate elder care in the future]."


Discussions of child care nearly always center on the desired benefits of such programs for working parents and their children. But some analysts believe that employers can also reap significant benefits from good child care arrangements. This accounts for the steady growth in the percentage of companies that offer some manner of child care assistance to their employees. In 1999, for instance, Hewitt Associates conducted a survey of U.S. employers that indicated that 90 percent of respondents offer child care assistance to workers.

This increase in child care assistance can be directly traced to concerns that employees who are grappling with child care issues are less productive than those who are unencumbered. These workers spend sometimes large amounts of company time on the issue (calling about possible providers, checking on the well-being of sick children, etc.), may fall victim to tardiness, and typically miss several days of work each year due to child care situations. Indeed, studies conducted in the early 1990s indicated that one out of three sick days taken by a working parent is actually due to child-related illnesses that preclude the child's presence at school or his or her usual day-care provider, and that other child care problems can siphon off another seven or eight days of employee attendance on an annual basis.

Some businesses, meanwhile, allow parents to occasionally bring their children to work with them when child care plans fall through. In some business environments, this may not result in dramatic reductions in productivity, but in other settingssuch as office environmentsthis can result in significant productivity downturns for both the parent (who has to divide his or her time between work and child supervision) and co-workers, who are often distracted by the presence of the youngster. Finally, some businesses permanently lose valuable workers who decide, after having a child, that the expense and hassles associated with day care make returning to the workplace a questionable strategy.

Given the above factors, many experts believe that small and large businesses alike should investigate ways in which they can help their employees secure acceptable child care arrangements. By doing so, they may well reap increased benefits in the realm of worker productivity. In addition, they are likely to find that having a program of child care assistance in place can be a tremendous boon in recruiting efforts, and that child care provisions can help companies retain employees who might otherwise stay at home or leave for a competitor that offers meaningful child care benefits.

Finally, companies may find that providing child care programs to workers is not nearly as expensive as they believed, since the provision of child care assistance is tax-deductible to employers. From a company standpoint, assisting employees with their child care needs is good business. A well administered child care program can save a company more money than any other employee benefit. It allows a company to recruit employees more effectively, to reduce turnover and absenteeism, and to increase the productivity of employees.


Prior to settling on a methodology by which to help working parents in their employ, businesses should first do some research to learn which alternatives will do the best job of meeting the needs of both the company and its workers. The first step in establishing a sound child care plan is to determine what a company's goals are, what type of corporate culture exists, and how much money it is willing to spend. A child care plan that does not adequately integrate these considerations will almost certainly perform inadequately or fail. In addition, small business owners should make sure that child care is a pressing issue before investing time and money into finding solutions for it. "Make sure that you have a problem in the first place," wrote Dayton Fandray in Workforce. "And if you find that a problem exists, measure its dimensions in terms that you can quantifybefore you try to fix it."

Employers should consider disseminating a questionnaire or find some other means of assessing the needs and desires of their work force. In addition, business owners and managers should take a good look at the demographic make-up of their employee roster. After all, a company that employs relatively few people under the age of 40 is far less likely to need a comprehensive child care assistance plan than is a business that employs large numbers of women under the age of 35. "Ask how many would be involved in some kind of child care arrangement, the ages of their children and their current arrangements for having those children taken care of," one management consultant told Nation's Business. Employee impressions of various child care options and the amounts they are willing to contribute to employer-assisted child care programs should also be solicited.

From there, businesses should investigate the community in which they operate. By checking out what programs the surrounding communities already have to offer, as well as determining both the resources and barriers to starting new ones, a company can be sure not to overlook existing services. Taking advantage of existing services and possibly subsidizing those services is a more economical solution than try to start from scratch. Finally, companies should try to find ways to accurately evaluate return on investment in their child care policies. This return on investment can take many forms, from increased loyalty and productivity to growth in employee retention rates.


In the past, business enterprises have associated child care almost exclusively in terms of on-site centers, which have been viewed as excessively expensive to build and operate. But proponents of such facilities contend that those opinions are based partly on misconceptions. In addition, child care experts and business consultants alike point to several other options that may be viable for employers, including those of small size. These options include company consortiums, outside referral services, salary reduction plans, and reimbursement plans.

On-Site Facilities

Providing on-site child care facilities is the most expensive option for businesses. It requires significant up-front costs and in some cases increased operating costs in such areas as payroll (states have various guidelines on the necessary qualifications of day care facility managers/professionals, which may necessitate hiring new personnel), utilities, and liability insurance (although companies in some areas may be able to avoid increases in this area). But this option also usually provides the greatest peace of mind to employees, who can visit their children during lunch breaks, etc., and dramatically reduces logistics complications that workers face with off-site facilities (routine drop-offs and pickups, picking up kids who are sick, etc.). Moreover, the presence of an on-site day care facility is a terrific attraction to prospective employees. And as mentioned above, the expense of establishing an on-site facility can be deducted from taxes. Understandably, however, most of these types of arrangements have been established by larger companies with healthy bottom lines rather than smaller businesses with more modest assets.


Consortiums are among the most popular child care alternatives for small businesses with limited resources that nonetheless want to assist their workers in securing good care for their youngsters.

In these programs, several small companies in a geographic region pool their resources to support an off-site day-care center that is operated by a qualified day-care provider. By combining resources, companies can realize significant cost savings while also meeting the child care needs of their employees. They simply pay for a certain number of slots and make the openings available to their employees (unused slots are usually made available to parents who are employed outside the consortium)

Outside Referrals

Companies that pursue this option contract with an outside agency to provide their employees with community day care information. This information includes rates, locations, and openings at various licensed facilities. This "information clearinghouse" approach is obviously the least expensive option for businesses, but it may also be the least satisfactory for parents who must still research these various options.

Salary Reduction and Reimbursement Plans

A favorite of business owners, who like its minimal expense, salary reduction plans call for the establishment of a flexible spending account that permits employees to reduce their pre-tax incomes by a specified amount and place that money in an account that is used to reimburse them for child care expenses. Reimbursement plans, meanwhile, call for tax-deductible payments that are either paid directly to the child care provider or to the working parents by the company.

In addition to these child care assistance options, business owners can institute other policies that can have a beneficial impact on their employees' ability to balance work and family responsibilities. Flextime, job sharing, work-at-home options, and extended maternity or paternity leaves have all been touted as policies that can be helpful to working parents.


In recent years, American companies have discovered that new child care (and other family-oriented) policies for working parents have not been universally embraced by their employees. Certainly, these sorts of programs have been applauded by workers who benefit from them, and they are increasingly popular in virtually every industry. But some single and childless employees have expressed resentment over this state of affairs. In fact, a 1996 Conference Board survey of companies with "family-friendly" policies in child care, etc., reported that 56 percent of the companies admitted that childless employees feel resentment about perceived bias in favor of employees with children.

The primary complaint of these single/childless employees is that they are expected to work longer hours and accept lower levels of compensation (in the form of fringe benefits) than co-workers with children. As Dan Seligman explained in Forbes, "The tales are of singles who have plans for the evening but are expected to alter them and cover for the mother whose child has a temperature, and are expected not to ask for the prime-time summer vacation slots, and don't benefit from day care centers, and take it for granted that the money invested in the centers is ultimately coming out of their own pockets." Crafting personnel policies that help working people deal with all types of family obligations is important and making sure that they are fully understood by all employees is equally important.

see also Career and Family; Flexible Spending Accounts


Allen, Eugenie. "Home Sick No More: When Mom and Dad Simply Have to Be at Work, Where Do Their Sick Children Spend the Day?" Time. 24 April 2000.

Center for American Progress. "Working Mothers Caught in a Bind." Available from July 2004.

Fandray, Dayton. "What is Work/Life Worth?" Workforce. May 2000.

"Few Employers Provide Direct Childcare Help." IRS Employment Trends. 15 September 1997.

Seligman, Dan. "Who Needs Family-Friendly Companies?" Forbes. 11 January 1999.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau. Child Health 2004. 2004.

Vaeth, Elizabeth. "Child-care Presents Challenge, Expense for Working Parents." Atlanta Business Chronicle. 6 September 1996.

Whitman, David. "Waiting for Mary Poppins." U.S. News & World Report. 24 November 1997.

                              Hillstrom, Northern Lights

                               updated by Magee, ECDI

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Child Care


The supervision and nurturing of a child, including casual and informal services provided by a parent and more formal services provided by an organized child care center.

Because there are many different views about how a child should be reared or nurtured, the topic of child care often involves controversial social and political issues. For instance, it may raise complex questions about a child's religious upbringing or whether a child should be disciplined with corporal punishment. Some people believe that providing child care outside the home undermines so-called traditional family structures in which the mother is considered the primary caretaker. Others are concerned primarily with broadening community responsibility for children and removing barriers for women who wish to enter and participate fully in the labor force. In addition, the term child care encompasses a wide range of services. It can include home-based care by a child's mother or father, care by a grandparent or other relative, care by a nanny, or care by an organized licensed facility or family center. It can also involve early childhood education such as that offered by nursery schools, Montessori schools, and kindergarten programs.

According to a 1997 study by the Urban Institute, an estimated 76 percent of preschool children with mothers who are employed are cared for by someone other than their parents. According to these statistics, center-based day-care centers cared for 32 percent of children throughout the United States. By comparison, 23 percent of the children were cared for by relatives, while 16 percent were cared for by a childcare provider in the provider's home. Six percent of the children were cared for by a nanny or a babysitter in the child's home.

Child care has always existed in the United States. Organized childcare centers in the early 1800s took the form of infant day schools in parts of Boston and New York. During the industrial revolution, and as a result of increased immigration to the United States, day nurseries were created in the late nineteenth century to care primarily for poor urban children. In New York City, in approximately 1910, 85 such nurseries cared for more than 5000 children each day. Day nurseries were privately run and charitable in nature and were intended to provide custodial supervision, hygiene instruction, and nutrition services. Later, many middle-class parents opted to enroll their children in kindergartens, educational programs adopted in parts of the United States in the mid-nineteenth century.

During world war ii, millions of women entered the workforce in war production areas. The need for an organized childcare program became acute. Congress responded by including provisions in the Community Facilities Act of 1941, then more commonly known as the lanham act, which created Lanham Act centers for child care. (As of the early 2000s, the term Lanham Act is generally used to refer to the Trademark Act of 1946, 15 U.S.C.A. § 1051 et. seq.) The establishment of the Lanham Act centers marked the first time the federal government became directly involved in providing childcare services to children who were not poor: the centers were open to all children whose parents worked in war production areas. The federal government provided 50 percent of the funds needed to operate the Lanham Act centers; states, localities, and parents provided the remaining 50 percent in matching funds. In 1943, the cost to parents for child care in a Lanham Act center was uniformly set at 50 cents a day.

The federally sponsored Lanham Act centers closed in 1946, soon after World War II ended, although California continued them at a state level. After that, direct federal involvement in a national childcare program virtually ceased. Although the U.S. Congress passed the Comprehensive Child Development Act of 1972, which would have in part established a national child-care program, President richard m. nixon vetoed the bill. Nixon stated that the act would "commit the vast moral authority of the national government to the side of communal approaches to child-rearing over and against the family-centered approach." Nixon's statement reflected the continuing debate about the appropriateness of providing child care outside a traditional family structure.

Although in the early 2000s the federal government does not have a national child care program, it does provide numerous social programs that include funding for childcare services. In 2000, the U.S. states spent an estimated $8 billion on child care. Of this number, approximately $6 billion came from the federal government in the form of subsidies provided by a number of programs.

The Head Start program provides developmental education programs primarily to poor children under the age of four. welfare programs such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) provide funds for states to implement childcare services for parents—usually mothers—who receive welfare grants. The Family Support Act of 1988 (FSA), Pub. L. 100–485, 102 Stat. 2343, created the federal Jobs Opportunity and Basic Skills (JOBS) program, in which qualifying parents who receive AFDC are required to enter education or training programs to enhance their chances of finding employment. The federal government funds the JOBS program by providing money to the states. The states in turn are allowed to choose the method of providing childcare services to welfare recipients. They may provide child care directly, reimburse parents for childcare expenses, or make direct payments to childcare providers. In 1993, the federal government spent approximately $480 million on FSA childcare subsidies.

The federal government also provides funds to states through the Social Services Block Grant, under title XX of the social security act, 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1397a et seq., as well as funds for the operation of the At-Risk Child Care Program. The At-Risk Program divides more than $350 million among state governments for childcare subsidies to families who are at risk of welfare dependency; the states must match the grants before they can use the money. Finally, the federal government allows families to deduct childcare expenses from their taxes in the form of the federal dependent care tax credit.

In response to increasing demands, Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), Pub. L. 103–3, 107 Stat. 6. Although the FMLA does not directly provide for childcare services, it does mandate in part that employers with more than 50 employees must allow those employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child or in order to take care of a child with a serious health condition. Many states also have parental leave legislation, which allows a parent to take unpaid time off for the birth or adoption of a child. The length of time allowed for unpaid leave varies from state to state and may be from six weeks to six months.

The regulation of childcare services occurs primarily on the state level, with the federal government requiring states to implement minimal regulations for private childcare centers. When Peggy McMartin Buckey and Raymond Buckey were accused of sexually abusing children in a day care center in California in the early 1980s, their case (McMartin v. Children's Institute Intern., 212 Cal. App. 3d 1393, 261 Cal. Rptr. 437 [Cal. App. 1989]) and others like it received

national media attention. Out of a stated concern for the notice given to such allegations, the federal government passed legislation in 1985 that appropriated funds to the states to provide training for childcare workers and to support licensing and enforcement officials. The federal government also required states to implement procedures that would require childcare centers to screen workers for any criminal history. In addition, the Child Care and Development Block Grant of 1990 (CCDBG), which provided funds to state government agencies to subsidize childcare services for low-income working parents, required states to develop minimum health and safety requirements for state-licensed child-care centers. Amendments to the CCDBG in 1995 removed such requirements but did obligate states to ensure that parents or guardians may visit or have access to a child while the child is in a child care center.

The regulation of child care facilities and caregivers on the state level varies considerably. A state may require a child care center to obtain a license in order to operate, or it may mandate certain minimum standards for all child care facilities. As of the early 2000s, every state requires that space for a child care facility be "adequate" or of a certain specified size. Most states also regulate how many child care workers must be on duty for a specified number of children, depending on the age of the children: for instance, New York requires one caregiver on duty for every two children under the age of two. Most states also regulate the qualifications and training requirements for child care workers and require child care centers to determine whether a job applicant or worker has a criminal record or has been listed in the state's child abuse registry. Some states, such as Arkansas and South Carolina, in some circumstances allow corporal punishment of children in their licensed day care centers.

Most states exempt certain child care centers from regulations or licensing requirements. Religious or church-based day care centers, as well as small home-based day care programs, are often exempt from regulations or licensing requirements other than basic health and safety regulations. In addition, private day care groups or associations may set goals for quality child care and may provide certification or accreditation programs for member centers.

further readings

Berry, Mary Frances. 1993. The Politics of Parenthood: Child Care, Women's Rights, and the Myth of the Good Mother. New York: Viking.

Capone, Angela, et al. 2003. Childmate: A Guide to Appraising Quality in Child Care. Clifton Park, N.Y.: Delmar Learning.

Hayes, Cheryl D., John L. Palmer, and Martha J. Zaslow, eds. 1990. Who Cares for America's Children: Child Care Policy for the 1990's. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Jackson, Sonia, et al. 2004. People under Three: Young Children in Day Care. New York: Routledge.

Lombardi, Joan. 2003. Time to Care: Redesigning Child Care to Promote Education, Support Families, and Build Communities Philadelphia, Pa.: Temple Univ. Press.

Ring, B., ed. 2001. The Child Care Disaster in America: Disdain or Disgrace? Huntington, N.Y.: Nova Science.

Steinfels, Margaret O'Brien. 1973. Who's Minding the Children: The History and Politics of Day Care in America. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Youcha, Geraldine. 1995. Minding the Children: Child Care in America from Colonial Times to the Present. New York: Scribner.


Family Law; Parent and Child; Welfare.

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Day Care

Day Care


Day care is a term that is commonly used in English-speaking North America. It refers to the care of young children by persons other than parents, guardians, or other close relatives (grandparents, for example) during a period when the childrens parents are not able to provide care. Typically, day care is associated with care for a child while the parent(s) are employed or participating in an educational program away from the home. (Programs such as preschools, nurseries, and kindergartens are typically part-time and less commonly associated with employment-related care.)

Day care takes a wide variety of forms, from what are termed informal arrangements (such as care in the home of a neighbor or friend, with no regulation by government), to more formal arrangements (such as care in a purpose-built facility with licensing by one or more levels of government). In most parts of North America informal care is more common than formal care. The numbers of children in care settings, the ages of those children, the number of adults present, the nature of activities provided in these settings, and the training of care providers vary significantly.

The care of children while their parents are employed outside the home has a lengthy history in Europe and North America. One of the very first programs to develop as a specific response to parental employment was the Infant Schools established in New Lanark, Scotland, in 1816. Robert Owens Institution for the Formation of Character was envisioned as much more than caregivingit was an experiment in individual and broader societal development (Owen 1816). Infant schools moved beyond Scotland, and by the late 1820s similar programs could be found in North America, from Prince Edward Island to the Carolinas. However, by the late 1830s the infant school movement had died out in North America, an early victim of a complex interplay of ideologies, laborforce dynamics, class structures, immigration, social movements, and political positions that persist to the present. The public face of this dynamic was that the mothers place is in the home with her childrenan argument heard from the pulpit in the 1830s and a continuing force in day care debates today (Pence 1989).

As the labor force expanded in the late twentieth century to include an ever higher proportion of women, including mothers, pressure mounted for governments, at both federal and state or provincial levels, to address the very significant and growing need for day care services through the establishment of funded and regulated systems of care. Adding to pressure felt by a changing labor force has been the strategic use of research on early childhood, including research on early brain development (Carnegie Task Force 1994; Shonkoff and Phillips 2000), to make a case for high quality care. These forces, augmented most recently by comparative studies of child care in other industrialized countries (OECD 2001, 2004), tipped the scales in Canada in early 2005, and the Liberalled federal government committed $5 billion over five years toward the development of high-quality developmental early learning and child care in collaboration with provinces and territories (Governments of Canada and Manitoba 2005). When the Liberal government was defeated later that year, the new Conservative-led government withdrew support for the program. The sociopolitical dynamics of day care that arose in the early nineteenth century are still evident in the twenty-first century.

SEE ALSO Child Development; Children


Carnegie Task Force on Meeting the Needs of Young Children. 1994. Starting Points: Meeting the Needs of Our Youngest Children. New York: Author.

Governments of Canada and Manitoba. 2005. Moving Forward: Governments of Canada and Manitoba Sign an Agreement on Early Learning and Child Care.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. 2001. Starting Strong: Early Childhood Education and Care. Paris: Author.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. 2004. The Country Note for Canada: Early Childhood Education and Care Policy. Paris: Author.

Owen, Robert. 1816. A New View of Society. London: J. M. Dent.

Pence, Alan R. 1989. In the Shadow of Mother-Care: Contexts for an Understanding of Child Day Care. Canadian Psychology 30 (2): 140-147.

Shonkoff, Jack P., and Phillips, Deborah. 2000. From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Alan R. Pence

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child care

child care • n. the action or skill of looking after children. ∎  the care of children by a day-care center, babysitter, or other provider while parents are working.

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day care

day care • n. daytime care for the needs of people who cannot be fully independent, such as children or the elderly: [as adj.] a day-care center.

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Day Care

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Day Care


DAY CARE. SeeChild Care .

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