Child Care

views updated May 23 2018

Child Care

Amy Harris-Solomon

Kerstin Holmlund

Geraldine Youcha


The phrase child care is a broad term used to describe any number of arrangements or settings in which the primary responsibility is caring for a young child. 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 were cared for a portion of their day by adults other than the custodial parents increased dramatically from the early 1980s to the early 2000s largely because of the increase in the number of mothers who had joined the workforce. According to the 2002 Quality Counts survey conducted by Education Week newspaper, approximately six out of every ten children, or 11.9 million children, ages five and younger were being jointly cared for by parents and early childhood educators, other child-care providers, relatives, or others.

While many parents may prefer to stay home with their infants or young children, this is not a financial option for most. Whether by choice or necessity, the majority of mothers are now working. Approximately one out of four young children are in a single parent home. Parents are forced to make choices for their children, and all too often choices are driven by the financial resources of the family, the availability or location of child care, hours of operation, or other factors not necessarily associated with either quality of care or parent's preference for care. In addition to paid care both in and out of the home, many families rely on the assistance of family members, older siblings, neighbors, or friends to help care for their young children.

There are several types of child care available to families of young children. In-home care is one type of care families choose 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 child's home with the family. Frequently a relative is the person providing the care, and in this situation it is not required that a child-care license be obtained. In-home day care is one of the only unregulated forms of child care in existence today. Other forms of child care, such as family day homes, center care, and corporate child-care centers, have become highly regulated systems with states determining how programs are evaluated and monitored and by whom.

Historical View of In-Home Child Care

Mothers have not always had the primary role of caring for their children in their home. Over the years children have been cared for at home by a variety of caregivers including, but not limited to, servants, slaves, wet nurses, and mammies. Even in recent history the more modern views of mothers staying at home to care for the children while the fathers work was largely a myth. Many homes of middle income or above continued to have black domestic servants as late as the 1950s.

Society's views on childhood have changed over the years as well, making it difficult to compare and contrast care provided in the home. In today's society children are cared for at least until they reach the legal adult age of twenty-one, sometimes even beyond that while they attend college or graduate school and get settled into a career. Dating back to the colonial times some children worked in the fields as early as age seven. Their childhood ended at this time, and they began to take on adult-like responsibilities of apprentice-ships, working in the home or in the fields. Wealthier families could pay for their children to study according to their inclinations, whereas children who came from poor environments had little say in where they went. Regardless of whether a parent paid for their child to go study with someone or a child was sold into an apprenticeship, the overall responsibility for their care at that time was with the caregiver or master. There was little formal schooling for young children outside of the home, therefore the work they learned through their apprenticeships was critical for their future livelihood.

Servants and Slaves

According to Geraldine Youcha, author of the 1995 book Minding the Children, it is hard to detail accurately what the day-to-day child-care arrangements were like in the United States during the days of slavery and the colonial period. The slave mother was not expected to take care of her children, as she was required to work in the fields or on the plantation. Children were the property of the plantation owners, and many of the children of slaves were thought to have been fathered by the masters. Children of slaves were sometimes cared for by the wife of the plantation owner, older slave children, or older slaves, or were left to fend for themselves during the long day when the mother was working. Those children who were born to slaves became slaves themselves.

Some black mothers became what were termed mammies. These women cared for the white children on the plantation and were in charge of many household domestic matters. These women upheld the high standards of the family and enforced the values and beliefs of the family with the children. The mammy's duty of caring for the children and the home is similar to the current role of the day nanny, with a major difference being that the mammies sometimes served as wet nurses to the white infants as well.

Domestic service was a common occupation for young girls during the nineteenth century. The number of servants a household had was generally related to the family's income.

Those who had more income had more servants and a wider variety of servants. The servants who took care of young children were considered lower servants, and these included the nursemaids and children's maids.

The Impact of Industrialization

For many urban families, the Industrial Revolution raised new issues regarding child care in the home. Most obviously, some families depended on work by mothers as well as fathers outside the home, which greatly complicated child care. Most mothers, even in the working class, ceased outside work upon marriage or the birth of the first child, but this was not always possible. Children were often cared for by other relatives. The number of grandmothers living with younger kin increased, in part because of the need for child care.

The spread of educational requirements also changed child-care patterns. Schools provided care for children, reducing the focus on the home after infancy. But schools also removed siblings who might help with child care in the homethough some groups tried to keep girls out of school in part because of their child-care potential. Falling birth-rates, by the later nineteenth century, also reduced siblings as a source of in-home care.

In the twentieth century, some of these arrangements continued, although the emphasis on a single wage-earner household by labor unions and other social policies allowed a period in which women most frequently took care of their own children, at least at times when their husbands were fully employed. During World War II (19391945), when women with young children took many jobs associated with war industries, employers and even the federal government sometimes provided child-care facilities.

Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Options for In-Home Child Care

After the 1970s, as women moved strongly into the labor force, families with low to moderate income levels often chose in-home care with grandparents caring for multiple children of varying ages at one time. Higher income families had the added 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 the hiring of these types of child-care workers.

An au pair is a foreign national living in a country specifically to experience life in that country. According to the American Institute of Foreign Policy, a legal au pair is a person who has contracted to come to the United States from a foreign country for a set amount of time, often one year. The term au pair means "equal" or "on par." An au pair lives with a family, receives room and board in exchange for child-care or baby-sitting services. The au pair may or may not be a person with any background in child development.

Nannies also provide child care in the family home, generally as live-ins. Typically these people provide more than routine child care, as they often assist in the daily routines of running a householdrunning errands, shopping, doing laundry, fixing meals, cleaning house, and performing other duties. The term nanny comes from the term used to describe a woman who lived with a wealthy British family and cared for the children. Nannies in British families were strictly to provide child care, as other servants took care of routine household chores. Nannies in the United States are generally young women, are often illegal immigrants, and typically have simple household responsibilities in addition to the primary role of caring for the children. The majority of larger cities in the United States have agencies that assist families in locating nanny care that meets their particular needs. Nanny care, like other types of in-home care, has recently been challenged by the growth in center care and other forms of out-of-home child care that are now available.

A growing number of grandparents are taking care of their young grandchildren. Data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census from 2002 indicated that grandparents were taking care of approximately 21 percent of all preschoolers who were in some type of child-care arrangement. This type of care may provide more economic advantage for the family because there may be minimal or no cost associated with it. The grandparent provides an emotional connection for the child and is in the position to support the values of the family, provide enriching family history, share stories, and pass traditions down from one generation to the next.

Families are also becoming more creative in their work schedules, with fathers and mothers often splitting their days so they work alternate shifts in order to continue caring for their children in the home. This dependence on family members continues a long tradition of assistance from among kin and children. If the mother works during the day, the father becomes the primary caregiver in the home, and the roles are reversed once the mother returns home from work, with the father working an alternate shift.

Baby-sitters differ somewhat in their role as in-home caregivers. Often a baby-sitter provides short-term care for a specified number of hours and is not the primary caregiver outside of those specified hours or days. Many are still students who work part-time. They may be one of many babysitters a family calls on, and often their care depends on their own activities, school schedules, and time. Their influence on children can nevertheless be significant. Baby-sitters can range in age from a young teenager to an elderly acquaintance, and their skills and experiences are as varied as their ages. There are baby-sitting courses available through local agencies such as the Red Cross, the YMCA, local colleges, and other youth or civic organizations.

The care of the child or children is dependent on the provider in much the same way as that of a parent. There are no overall standards related to fee structure, roles, and responsibilities especially in the case of relative caregivers. Payment for services is dependent on such factors as whether the person providing care is also receiving room and board, whether the person is a family member doing child care as a favor or as a family obligation, and what other benefits the caregiver is receiving. Commercial in-home care requires licensing if more than one family of children is being cared for. But some families create cooperative care arrangements with an exchange of services in a given rotation.


Berry, Mary Francis. 1993. The Politics of Parenthood: Child Care, Women's Rights, and the Myth of the Good Mother. Harmonds-worth, UK: Penguin.

Bredekamp, Sue, ed. 1987. Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age Eight, expanded ed. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Cooper, Sonja. 1999. Child Care: A Parent's Guide. New York: Checkmark Books.

Ehrich, Michelle. 1999. The Anxious Parent's Guide to Quality Child-care. New York: Penguin Putnam.

Fein, Greta, and Alison Clarke-Stewart. 1973. Day Care in Context. New York: Wiley.

Gardner, Marilyn. 2002. "Meet the Nanny'Granny'." Christian Science Monitor August 1. Also available from <>.

Helburn, Suzanne, and Barbara Bergmann. 2002. America's Child Care Problem: The Way Out. New York: Palgrave Publishing.

Lally, J. Ronald, Abbey Griffin, Emily Fenichel, et al. 1995. Caring for Infants and Toddlers in Groups: Developmentally Appropriate Practice. Washington, DC: Zero to Three.

National Research Council. 1990. Who Cares for America's Children? Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences.

Peisner-Feinberg, Ellen S., Margaret R. Burchinal, Richard M. Clifford, et al. 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.

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

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

internet resource

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

Amy Harris-Solomon


Preschools are an inherent aspect of welfare policies in many countries, but from time immemorial the upbringing of children of preschool age has been deemed a duty for the family. The formation of child-care strategies has been influenced by the social position of men and women, as well as societal value judgements, norms, and regulations. Any history of child care services should, therefore, consider the varying social situations of which it has been a part. The history of child care varies as well according to the social structures in different countries. Nevertheless, two distinct paths of development can be traced. The first has a social focus (care) and is linked to charity, while the second emphasizes pedagogical activities (education). The differences between these two types of institutions are still evident in the early twenty-first century.

Child Care Becomes an Issue for Poor Relief

Society faced a radical change as it underwent the transition from an agricultural to an industrialized capitalist society during the 1800s, and this affected people's living conditions. Wage earning became common and production was moved from the homestead to factories and workshops. This, in turn, created a need for child care on the part of working parents. Many children were left to look after themselves or each other because of a lack of organized child care. According to accounts beginning in the early 1800s, social unrest was an established factor in the social fabric of countries such as Germany, France, England, Sweden, and the United States. Women were actively involved in finding solutions for the problems society faced, and this also affected the social scene.

In the public debate on social problems, the working class and their families were the prime target. The wealthier classes agreed that the prevalence of street children was a central problem. Private initiatives, associations, and authorities did their best to solve these social welfare problems. In England, for example, the Infant School Society was started in 1821; in Germany the kindergarten movement developed;in the United States the New York Children's Aid Society was established in 1850; and in Sweden members of the bourgeoisie organized themselves to establish infant schools, asylums, and crèches.

Child Care for the Workers' Children

During the 1800s, in many parts of Europe and the United States, there emerged institutions whose goal was providing care for workers' children. These went under different names, including child crib, crèche, cradle-school, infant school, and workhouse, but had similar ambitions, including training and reform for young offenders and activities to keep children out of trouble in their free time.

The infant school. Robert Owen was known as the creator of infant schools, which started in 1816 in Scotland. The infant school was designed as a disciplinary measure for street children, and looked after children until the age when the compulsory education system could take over. They spread rapidly throughout Europe and the United States, where people committed to social change tried to incorporate them into their respective social systems. These schools were supposed to help solve urban problems. In England, infant schools were viewed as an ideal means of dealing with the vicious effects of industrialization. Infant schooling took a different turn in the United States. During the 1830s and 1840s an internal division arose within the movement, resulting in its decline. In France, Johann Friedrich Oberlin had already established schools for infants at the end of the 1700s, based on a social welfare perspective. The first French infant school was opened in 1828, and was eventually incorporated into the French école maternelle.

The workhouse. For the poor and their children throughout Europe and the United States, there was always the alternative of the workhouse. These institutions were established at various times in different countries, depending largely on when industrialization emerged there. In England, this occurred at the end of the 1700s and beginning of the 1800s. In the United States it took place during the first half of the nineteenth century, and in Sweden it did not occur until the second half of the same century. It was assumed that children in workhouses could be isolated from the unsuitable influence of their impoverished parents. The children were to be provided with moral upbringing, a simple form of education, and above all, they were to be put to work. By working, they would learn to take responsibility for their own upkeep. Critics of these institutions have seen their activities as a means of class control.

The crèche. In France, Firmin Marbeau established a crèche in 1844 as an alternative to the inadequate care provided by unaware babysitters. In 1846 he published a work entitled Cradle schools, or the means of lessening the misery of the people by increasing the population and was rewarded with the Monthyon prize by the French Academy. The French crèche became a model and spread rapidly to Scandinavia, Belgium, Holland, Italy, Spain, Austria, China, and the United States. Its advocates claimed they produced better results than providing financial assistance to individual parents. But critics stated that those who were in favor of letting society take responsibility for impoverished children were, in fact, also benignly accepting the licentious behavior that was thought to be the underlying cause of poverty.

The role of the crèche, also called nursery or cradle school, was to look after the children of working mothers. The crèche was a full-day institution for the supervision of children of poor parents where the mother had to go out to work, either because she was a single parent or because she had to contribute to the livelihood of the family The children were to be provided with nutritious food, good care, and sound moral training. From the beginning they were run under private management, through an association, or supported by local authorities, church boards, and poor relief bodies. The emphasis in the crèche was on the day-to-day supervision and care of children. Very simple materials were used for this and often the groups were large and the buildings unsanitary. The staff of the crèches consisted of poorly paid untrained working-class women. But upper-class men and women, sitting on their committees, carried out an extensive and sometimes painstaking supervision of the staff and activities provided.

A Kindergarten with an Educational Aim

The kindergartens were started by private initiative and with other motives than those of the infant schools, workhouses, and crèches. The first kindergarten was founded in Germany 1837 and emanated from the pedagogy and philosophy of Friedrich Froebel. Froebel was inspired by Jean-Jacques

Rousseau and Johann Pestalozzi. He did not believe in punishment as a force for upbringing and described the child as a plant in need of nourishment, light, and care. The term kindergarten (German for "children" and "garden") can be seen as a symbol of his main ideas. Its activities spread to many countries due to Froebel's writings and, above all, though the efforts of middle-class women. The growth of the kindergarten went hand-in-hand with the needs of bourgeois women to find an opportunity to establish a profession and career. For example, Margarethe Meyer and Elisabeth Peabody pioneered the kindergarten movement in the United States in the 1850s; and Bertha Meyer, Margarethe's sister, went to England and continued the kindergarten movement there. From the middle of the 1800s onward, kindergartens were adopted all over Europe. A number of Swedish kindergarten pioneers qualified as teachers at the Pestalozzi-Froebel Haus in Berlin and on finishing their training returned to Sweden where, on a private basis, they established kindergartens, institutions for staff training (at the end of the 1800s), and a few years later, their own journal. The female pioneers within the kindergarten movement were good examples of how successfully the ideal of maternity could be combined with an interest in preschool pedagogics.

In the kindergarten the focus was on education. The staff were trained teachers or monitors, whose methods and materials constituted a part of their educational view. The activities of the kindergarten were restricted to a few hours every day. Many different interests had a stake in the kindergartens. They were financed by private individuals, companies, churches, immigrant societies, foundations, and municipalities. The kindergarten movement itself had internal contradictions. One issue was the question of which children would have access to the kindergartens. Some thought they should only be available to upper-class children, but most upper-class mothers were housewives and did not require child care. Representatives of the public kindergartens expressed the view that these institutions should be open to children from all walks of society, in order to reconcile class differences. In the United States so-called charity kindergartens were established. The first charity kindergarten was opened in St. Louis by Susan E. Blow during the winter of 18721873. Other women followed her example and it was not long before charity kindergartens were found in many of the towns and cities of the country.


Organized child care has focused its activities either on care or education. This dichotomy has reflected the institutional needs of different groups within society, either based on child care for working parents or the child's educational process. Children have been treated differently within these dichotomous infant institutions, and the division has been an obstacle to providing an integrated program of care and education for young children. Still, in the majority of European countries and in the United States, the preschool is integrated into the school system and provides an important role in the education, upbringing, and care of children.

In the twentieth century, most traditional forms of child care have continued to serve working mothers, but the ideas underlying the workhouse or crèche have largely disappeared. In the first half of the century, they were replaced by mothers' pensions, which allowed poor women to remain at home with their children, or by family subsidies. Since the 1970s, as more middle-class women have gone into the workplace, out-of-home child care has largely been left up to private business initiatives in the United States, while it is both provided by the state and closely supervised in most European countries.

See also: Nursery Schools .


Allen, Ann Taylor. 1991. Feminism and Motherhood in Germany 18001914. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Barnard, Henry. 1884. Kindergarten and Child Culture Papers: Froebel's Kindergarten, with Suggestions on Principles and Methods of Child Culture in Different Countries, Republished from the American Journal of Education. Hartford, CT: Office of Barnard's American Journal of Education.

Bloch, Marianne N. 1987. "Becoming Scientific and Professional: An Historical Perspective on the Aims and Effects of Early Education." In The Formation of the School Subjects, ed. Tom Popkewitz. New York: Falmer Press.

Brannen, Julia, and Peter Moss, eds. 2003. Rethinking Children's Care. Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Crowther, Margaret A. 1981. The Workhouse System 18341929: The History of an English Social Institution. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

David, Miriam. 1980. The State, the Family, and Education. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Duchatel, Tanneguy, and Francois Marc Louis Naville. 1842. Fattigvarden i alla dess riktningar sasom Statsanstalt och Privatinrättning samt dess nuvarande tillstand i civiliserade stater inom och utom Europa, svensk översättning (Poor relief in all its forms, from government to private institutions; its present state in civilized country within and outside of Europe, Swedish translation). Stockholm, Sweden: Norstedt and Söner.

Hareven, Tamara K., ed. 1977. Family and Kin in Urban Communities, 17301930. New York: New Viewpoint.

Holmlund, Kerstin. 1996. "Lat barnen komma till oss: Förskollärarna och kampen om smabarnsinstitutionerna"(Let the children come to us: Preschool teachers and their struggle for the child-care institutions). Ph.D. diss, Umea Pedagogiska institutionen.

Holmlund, Kerstin. 1999. "Cribs for the Poor and Kindergartens for the Rich: Two Directions for Early Childhood Institutions in Sweden, 18541930." History of Education 28, no. 2: 143155.

Holmlund, Kerstin. 2000. "Don't Ask for Too Much! Swedish Pre-school Teachers, the State, and the Union, 19061965." Historyof Education Review 29, no. 1: 4864.

Klaus, Alisa. 1993. Every Child a Lion. The Origins of Maternal and Infant Health Policy in the United States and France, 18901920. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Michel, Sonya, and Rianne Mahon, eds. 2002. Child Care Policy at the Crossroads: Gender and Welfare State Restructuring. New York: Routledge.

Moberg, Ellen. 1947. "Barnträdgardens uppkomst och dess utveckling i Sverige" (The rise and development of the kindergarten in Sweden). In Barnträdga rden, ed. Maria Moberg, Stina Sandels. Stockholm, Sweden: Natur och Kultur.

O'Connor, Sorca M. 1995. "Mothering in Public: The Division of Organized Child Care in the Kindergarten and Day Nursery, St. Louis, 18861920." Early Childhood Research Quarterly 10: 6380.

Kerstin Holmlund


A look at child care in the United States today is a look back at the past. It has all been tried before, and the systems society has tended to support are the ones that have met its needs. These systems have been rejected and replaced by others that fit the ethos of a particular time, then resurrected in slightly different form. Group care away from home, day care, foster care, the schools as baby-sitters, and nanny care have all had previous incarnations, and twenty-first century debates about them are echoes of the heated discussions of earlier times. There is a long legacy of shared motherhood, with more than one mother in the center of the picture; there is also a little-known tradition of men as nurturers.

The Apprenticeship System

Colonial apprenticeship, imported from England, was to a large extent male child care. Designed to train adolescent boys in trades such as carpentry and printing and girls in housewifery, it was, for the poor, an early form of foster care. More than half the eleven hundred poor apprentices in Boston between 1734 and 1805 were five to nine years old. The master was responsible for children barely out of toddlerhood as well as those in their teens, and he served as "father" until the children were old enough to be on their own usually twenty-one for boys and sixteen to eighteen for girls, or until they were married. Apprenticeship in the early teens was more common in Europe where up to a third of all adolescents were apprenticed in rural or craft householdsin a combination of child care with service and training. In the United States the system began a slow decline with the American Revolution and with growing industrialization, and by the Civil War (18611865) it persisted only in pockets here and there.


While apprenticeship flourished and faded, slavery, that "peculiar institution," evolved its own innovative child-care practices. To free able-bodied women to work in the fields, most slave children were cared for, usually in groups, by other slaves (typically those too old to work). Sometimes the group care was day care that foreshadows more contemporary patterns; sometimes it was a system anticipating the communal child rearing of the Israeli kibbutz, with children living in a separate house. Infants were usually nursed by their mothers or by another slave. But there were instances in which the mistress acted as wet nurse to free the mother to return to more productive labor.

As for the white children on the plantation, the fabled Mammy of Gone with the Wind fame often served both as wet nurse and then dry nurse of the white master's child. But she existed for the most part only on large plantations. Many white children were cared for by black children hardly older than they were.

Nineteenth-Century Developments

A contagion of reform swept through the United States in the mid-nineteenth century, challenging the sanctity of the cult of motherhood. This generated a few, relatively small experiments in child care. Utopian communities, dedicated to the idea that the road to a perfect world would be paved with perfect children, included the celibate Shakers who provided what were essentially orphanages for neglected and dependent children and the controversial Oneida Community in upstate New York in which everythinghuman beings as well as propertywas shared. Both groups cared round the clock for children who came to or, in the case of Oneida, were born into the community. The Shaker communities lasted longer than any othersfrom 1776 to remnants of one in the early 2000s. The Oneida Community, started by the visionary John Humphrey Noyes (18111886) in 1848, lasted forty years and included as many as three hundred men, women, and children. Children were reared together from the time they were weaned (at one point this was as early as seven months) and were the responsibility of the community, not their parents. This horrified outside society but freed women for work, education, and love of both men and God.

In the midst of the immigrant slums of the late nineteenth century, science, philanthropy, social conscience, and practicality coalesced in the settlement housea "settlement" of do-gooders. Jane Addams (18601935) was a key figure in the movement. She cofounded Hull-House, which opened in Chicago in 1889 and soon became the most famous and the most influential example.

The day nurseries at the settlement houses provided for young children from the time a mother went to work until she came back at night. There was drop-off care for a few hours, care for sick children, and twenty-four-hour care, if necessary. Children were fed hot, nutritious meals. Babies as young as two weeks old were accepted if there was real need, parents were involved as teaching assistants and in parent education classes, and caretakers made home visits to provide continuity in the child's life. These day nurseries, supported by private contributions, were criticized as the condescending meddling of well-meaning women. But they now seem to have been an effective, humane way to deal with the children of working mothers.

The kindergarten arose initially in Germany as a way of providing early education and also, particularly for the lower classes, as improved child care. Spreading to the United States, the idea of the kindergarten, where very young children could be cared for by trained professionals, fit neatly with the theoretical concepts of the influential pioneering American psychologist G. Stanley Hall (18441924). Child rearing, Hall believed, was a science and too difficult to be left to bumbling mothers.

The kindergarten (run by private, charitable organizations at first, and then picked up by the public schools) was seized on as a way of assimilating the children of immigrants now crowding the American shores. By 1862 the word had come into the language, and the number of kindergartens grew along with the number of immigrants. Society had once again approved what it needed to care for its children. And as had happened with day nurseries, strategies to improve the lives of the poor trickled up to the rich and middle class. By 1920, about 10 percent of U.S. children, poor or not, attended kindergartens. For many mothers, child care for at least half the day could be assured.

Various ethnic groups brought with them the conviction that the extended family must care for its own children. Children who were orphans or half orphans, or those in families in which there were simply too many children for their parents to handle, were parceled out to relatives. The ravages of death and desertion made shared mothering necessary. Many nineteenth-century families had an older relative, most commonly a grandmother, living in, mainly for assistance in child care. This residential pattern began to diminish starting in the 1920s.

In black families, too, the extended family played a large role in caring for children of unmarried mothers and women who had to work, but this safety net extended beyond blood relatives to "fictive kin," neighbors or close female friends of the mother, or people who had come into the family constellation so long ago that no one remembered when or why. Such care lasted for a few hours, a week, or the rest of the child's life.

Even in the early twenty-first century, 50 percent of the children whose working mothers had less than a high school education were cared for by relatives. Relatives cared for 30 percent of the children of mothers with a high school diploma and 16 percent of those whose mothers had graduated from college. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of fathers staying home and caring for children increased dramatically since the 1990s.

By the mid-nineteenth century, orphanages, caring for large groups of children, were widely hailed as ideal institutions. They were established for the best of reasons to nurture children in the worst of times. Industrialization and immigration had cut families off from earlier supports. Epidemic disease and later the carnage of the Civil War (18611865) made it urgent to find a new way to care for children set adrift.

Historians have recently emphasized the extent to which working-class families often used orphanages as places to put children temporarily, when the family was financially destitute or disrupted by illness, with the parents maintaining contact with the children and later taking them back. For other children, orphanages sometimes doubled as child-placement schemes, with the goal of placing children in the homes of other families. Many authorities supported this system as the best way to provide a home environment and work training for children of the poor. It was often exploited, however, by foster parents themselves, who sought cheap labor.

A noninstitutional method to deal with orphansthe orphan trainsfocused on individuals. In the seventy-five years between 1854 and 1929 a mass displacement rivaled only by the Children's Crusade of the thirteenth century transported more than two hundred thousand orphaned, neglected, and abandoned children from the crowded, filthy streets of New York and other eastern cities to the salubrious air of the midwestern countryside. Most of them were in the care of the New York Children's Aid Society, whosefounder, Charles Loring Brace (18261890), was determined to rescue "uncared for waifs before the evil environment has done its deadly work." Although the older children were essentially indentured servants, the farm families sometimes legally adopted the younger ones they took in. The system was criticized for tearing children from their homes or from familiar streets and for turning Catholics into Protestants in the Midwest. Yet many children prospered in homes far from home.

Trends in the Twentieth Century

The very rich, particularly before and after World War I (19141918), imported nannies to care for their children within the home. Preferably English or French or German and bringing with her an overlay of aristocracy on top of her own working-class origins, Nanny (or Mademoiselle or Fraulein) sometimes completely replaced parents, who made only brief state appearances. Some nannies were horrors others lifesavers. Middle-class families, meanwhile, often gained some child care from day servants, though their quality was widely distrusted.

During the mid- and late twentieth century, with mothers with young children entering the labor force in increasing numbers, the nanny became a fixture in middle- and upper-middle-class families. The word has now come to be a generic term for a full-time or part-time home-based child-care worker. In 2001, 11 percent of young children of college-educated working mothers were cared for by nannies or baby-sitters; the percentage drops to 5 for mothers with a high school education.

Between the two world wars, rich and not-so-rich parents who could not or chose not to care for their children themselves found another solution. Elite boarding schools took the boys (and sometimes the girls) and helped their parents avoid many of the upheavals of adolescence. The schools themselves, and the concept of adolescence as a separate period of life, were both born in the nineteenth century. Throughout this period, convents and other religious institutions continued to care for young children as they had done for centuries.

In the wider culture, after 1909 when the first White House Conference onhildren concluded, "The carefully selected foster home is for the normal child the best substitute for the natural home," foster family care came to be seen as ideal in place of the orphanage. Societies forthe Prevention of Cruelty tohildren (based on the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and sometimes combined with it) pioneered in investigating child abuse and removing children from unsuitable homes starting in 1874. Slowly the focus began to shift to foster care or preserving the family rather than removing the child.

With the Great Depression of the 1930s, the focus shifted again. Faced with massive unemployment, the Works Progress Administration began a system of day nurseries meant to give jobs to out-of-work teachers, nutritionists, nurses, and custodians, among others. The program, available only to the poor, was the first comprehensive support for and funding of child care by the federal government. When those make-work day-care centers were discontinued on March 1, 1943, most of them became Lanham Act centers for the children of mothers working in vitally important warrelated industries. For the first time day care lost the stigma of "for the poor or unwanted only."

Under the Lanham Act, approximately 1.6 million American children were in federally funded nursery schools and day care centers by July 1945, the peak of the war effort. The centers often operated in schools or on the grounds of factories, providing day care, before- and after-school care, and vacation coverage. A total of about six hundred thousand different children received care through Lanham Act funds during the two and a half years of the program's existence. More young children were cared for away from their mothers than ever before. The centers closed six months after the war ended when women were told firmly to go back home and make room for returning servicemen.

The success of the Lanham Act centers was largely forgotten in the 1950s as women were viewed as the only effective nurturing figures. After the 1960s, however, increasing numbers of American women with young children were ignoring the conventional wisdom as they chose to work or were forced by circumstances to do so. In 2002, 72 percent of women with children under eighteen years of age were in the labor force. Day-care centers spread haltingly in the United States in response to these patterns, with some state-run institutions for the urban poor and often-expensive private centers for others.

In other cultures day care is built permanently into the national social welfare system. In France, nearly 90 percent of children aged three to five are served in a program that blends education, health care, and child care in all-day centers and licensed private care homes, largely funded with tax dollars. The Israeli government provides kindergarten for all five-year-olds, and 50 percent of all three-to four-year-olds are in public child care. In China almost all children, starting at the age of fifty-six days, have government child care available, and five-day-a-week boarding care is offered in the large cities.

The widespread conviction that only a mother (preferably perfect) or her exemplary substitute can provide what a child needs to thrive is not supported by a body of respected research. Children have been helped and hurt by any system, whether orphanages, foster care, communal care, nanny care, or mother care. What matters is the quality of care and the quality of caring. And in each case much depended on the age and resilience of the child. Every era has had to find its own way of caring for the children it has produced, supported by psychological understanding that is, itself, a product of that time.

See also: Placing Out .


Baltzell, E. Digby. 1964. The Protestant Establishment: Aristocracy and Caste in America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Cott, Nancy, and Elizabeth H. Pleck, eds. 1979. A Heritage of Her Own: Toward a New Social History of American Women. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Klaw, Spencer. 1993. Without Sin: The Life and Death of the Oneida Community. New York: Viking Penguin.

Langsam, Miriam Z. 1964. Children West: A History of the Placing-Out System of the New York Children's Aid Society. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

Lerner, Gerda. 1973. Black Women in White America: A Documentary History. New York: Vintage.

NICHD Early Child Care Research Network. 2001. "Nonmaternal Care and Family Factors in Early Development: An Overview of the NICHD Study of Early Child Care." Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 22, no. 5: 457492.

Rawick, George P., ed. 1972. The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography, 19 vols. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

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

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

Geraldine Youcha

Child Care

views updated Jun 27 2018

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

Child Care

views updated May 14 2018


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

Day Care

views updated May 14 2018

Day care


Day care refers to the care provided for infants and toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children, either in their own homes, in the home of a relative or other caregiver, or in a center-based facility.


The last half of the twentieth century saw a dramatic rise in the numbers of women with young children who worked outside of the home. In 2000, 55 percent of mothers with infants were in the labor force. In 2001, 64 percent of mothers with children under the age of six, and 78 percent of mothers with children ages six to seventeen were in the labor force. These developments led to an increased demand for childcare providers by parents while they are at work.

In 2001, 61 percent of all children participated in some sort of nonparental care. As children grow older, the likelihood they will receive care from someone other than a parent increases.

Types of day care

Center-based care

Center-based care may also be labeled child or daycare centers, nursery schools, or preschools. These facilities care for children in groups. They may have different sponsors, including universities, schools, churches, social service agencies, independent owners or chains, and employers. Many parents choose center-based care because they believe the presence of multiple caregivers, larger groups of children, and state inspections make them both safer and more dependable. Some parents also consider these types of centers a better learning environment for their children.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) issues recommendations relating to the organization and structure of daycare centers, particularly those that provide care for infants and toddlers. These recommendations are considered to be the minimum standards a daycare center should observe. Their recommendations concerning staff to child ratios are as follows:

  • There should be no more than four infants per caregiver, and no more than eight infants per one group of children in center-based care.
  • There should be no more than four young toddlers (1224 months) per caregiver, with a maximum of 12 young toddlers and three caregivers per group. They recommend there be no more than six older toddlers (2436 months) per caregiver, and a maximum of 12 older toddlers and two caregivers per group.

Some of the advantages of center-based care are:

  • The staff are trained and supervised.
  • There are more resources and equipment available.
  • Care is still available when a staff member is absent.
  • The centers are more likely to be licensed and subject to state regulation.
  • Children in center-based care demonstrate slightly better cognitive development than those cared for in homes, possibly because they have more opportunities to interact with other children and are exposed to more learning materials.

Some of the disadvantages of center-based care are:

  • The costs are higher than for other types of care.
  • The background of staff can vary greatly, and there is often greater staff turnover.
  • Larger groups of children may mean less individual attention for the child.
  • There is a greater likelihood of exposure to communicable illnesses.

Family childcare providers

Family childcare providers offer care for children in the provider's home. Requirements differ from state to state. However, the majority of states require that providers be regulated if they are watching more than four children. Many states may have a voluntary regulation process in place for those providers caring for four or fewer children. Regulations usually require providers to meet minimum health, safety , and nutrition standards. In addition, they are usually required to have a criminal background check. Some states yearly inspect the homes of family childcare providers, and many require ongoing training. Parents often make this childcare choice because they prefer their children to stay in a more home-like environment. This arrangement may be less expensive and more flexible than center-based care. Parents may also believe that their children are better off in smaller groups with a single caregiver.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that family childcare providers should have six children or fewer per one adult caregiver, including the caregiver's own children. The total number should be fewer if infants and toddlers are involved. No caregiver who works alone should be caring for more than two children younger than two years of age.

Some of the advantages of family child care are:

  • There are usually fewer children than in center-based care.
  • There may be children of different ages.
  • The child gets to stay in a home-like environment.

Some of the disadvantages of family child care are:

  • Many family childcare providers are not licensed or regulated.
  • Resources and equipment may vary widely.
  • Family childcare providers normally work alone, which may make it more difficult to judge their work.

In-home caregivers

In-home care occurs in the child's own home. This care includes both live-in and live-out nannies and baby-sitters . Most in-home caregivers are not state-regulated, though many nanny-placement agencies are subject to state regulation. If in-home caregivers receive childcare subsidy payments, they may be required by many states to have a criminal background check done, and a very few states have minimal health and safety training requirements.

The advantages of in-home caregivers are:

  • Children receive one-on-one care.
  • Children may be safer and feel more secure in their own home.
  • Parents may feel they have more control over the type of care their children receive.
  • There is the possibility of more flexible scheduling.
  • Care will usually be available even if the child is ill.

There are also disadvantages to in-home care. These include:

  • It is often the most expensive type of care.
  • The parent may bear the burden of obtaining background checks and providing ongoing supervision.

Care provided by relatives, friends, and neighbors

This type of care is often referred to as kith and kin care and may take place either in the child's or the caregiver's home. Some of the advantages of this type of care are:

  • Parents may believe their children are receiving more loving, affectionate care and that the child is more secure.
  • A relative, friend, or neighbor may be more likely to share the parents' values.
  • The child receives one-on-one care.
  • There may be a great deal of flexibility in this option.
  • Care may be low- or no-cost.

Some of the disadvantages of having friends and relatives caring for children include:

  • There is minimal regulation required by most states (though some parents may view this as an advantage).
  • There may be a lack of care if the friend or relative is sick or on vacation.

The type of care chosen is related to the child's age. Twenty-three percent of newborn to two-year-olds and 22 percent of three- to six-year-olds are cared for in a home by a relative. Eighteen percent and 14 percent of these same respective ages were cared for by a nonrelative in a home environment. Higher percentages of three- to six-year-olds (56%) participated in center-based programs while only 17 percent of newborn to two-year-olds did. Some children may participate in more than one type of arrangement.

Center care is more common for black and white children with working mothers (30% and 24%, respectively) than for Hispanic children (10%). However, relative care is more common for Hispanic children (39%) versus black and white children (27% for blacks; 25% for whites). Use of parent care does not differ depending on racial and ethnic background. Black children with working mothers are more likely to be in care full-time than are white and Hispanic children (58% for black children, 36% for white children, and 34% for Hispanic children).

Choosing and finding high-quality child care is important and may play a key role in a child's health and development. Parents need to consider a variety of factors when deciding who should care for their child. There are several positive factors parents should look for when evaluating child-care options. These include:

  • There is adequate supervision and attention to each child. Parents can find out their state's specific daycare regulations by contact their state's department of health and human services.
  • Caregivers are well-trained and professional.
  • Close attention is paid to health and safety issues. There are proper hand-washing routines, and the facility (or home) is clean. Caregivers have training in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation . Safety precautions and accident prevention measures are in place.
  • Children are encouraged to explore and are exposed to games, songs, and conversation in order to foster language development.
  • There is appropriate and sufficient equipment and play materials.
  • Parents are welcomed to make unscheduled visits and are encouraged to voice concerns and suggestions.
  • Stability of caregivers is recognized as an important component of quality care. There is a low rate of staff turnover.

The following signs may indicate that there are problems with the child care provider or facility:

  • The caregiver or center staff do not answer questions or address parent concerns.
  • There is no written copy of center day-care policies.
  • There is a high turnover of staff.
  • The child indicates he or she is not happy with the day-care experience.
  • There are recurring unexplained accidents.
  • Parents are discouraged from participating in activities or voicing opinions about policies or practices.
  • Other parents report concerns or problems.

Common problems

Parents who are deciding to place their children in some sort of day care should be aware that some problems may occur. A comprehensive study of early child care was started in 1991 by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), part of the National Institutes of Health. More than 1,300 children were followed from birth to find out how the amount, type, and quality of day care they encounter affected their development. The study found that, at 15 months, child care neither promoted nor negatively affected infants' attachment to their mothers. However, a low-quality child-care environment combined with less sensitive mothering did leave infants less securely attached. The findings from this study also suggest that toddlers who spend long hours in day care display a slightly weaker bond with their mothers.

Child care can influence the behavior of the child, as well. More time spent in day care during the first two years led to more caregiver-reported behavioral problems at age two, although the effect was negated by age three. Higher quality care led to better child compliance and self-control, and children in larger groups (over three) appeared to be more cooperative than those in smaller groups. The biggest indicator of a child's behavior, however, was the family environment, particularly the sensitivity of mothering practices. This also carried over into the area of cognitive development, in which researchers found no benefit for children being raised exclusively by the mother. Those in high-quality care were at an advantage compared to those with exclusive maternal care, while low-quality child care presented a disadvantage. In general, fewer problem behaviors, higher cognitive performance, and better mother-child attachments were noted when children received higher quality care.

An additional concern for parents is that children who attend day care, especially in center-based environments, are more frequently exposed to communicable diseases and more frequently experience respiratory illnesses, ear infections, and diarrhea than children who are cared for primarily at home. The size of the group the child is in seems to play a role. Larger groups have higher incidences than smaller groups. In contrast, however, children who spend more time in day care miss fewer days of school than their peers who were cared for at home. Finally, parents need to consider who will care for their child if the child is ill, since most daycare providers will not accept ill children for fear of infecting other children.

Parental concerns

Most parents are concerned about how their child will cope and adapt to being cared for by someone else. Parents can help their child adjust to a new childcare arrangement in several ways. They can arrange a visit to the center or home where they will receive care. Introducing them to the caregiver(s) may make the first days away from their parents easier. Some children like to bring a reminder of home with them when they attend day care. Parents may also choose one of the several books for children about day care and read it to their child.


Center-based care Also called childcare centers or daycare centers, these facilities care for children in groups.

See also Attachment between infant and caregiver.



Everstadt, Mary. Home-Alone America: The Hidden Toll of Day Care, Behavioral Drugs, and Other Parent Substitutes. East Rutherford, NJ: Penguin Group, 2005.

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

Petrie, Steph, et al. Respectful Care for Infants in Groups: The RIE Approach to Day Care Practice. Herndon, VA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2005.

Robertson, Brian C. Day Care Deception: What the Child Care Establishment Isn't Telling Us. San Francisco, CA: Encounter Books, 2004.


Greenspan, Stanley I. "Child Care Research: A Clinical Perspective." Child Development 74 (July-August 2003): 4, 10649.

"Questioning Child Care: A Government-funded Study Has Provoked Controversy about the Effects of Day Care on Children." Harvard Mental Health Letter 19 (December 2002): 6.


National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA). 1319 F. Street, NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC 200041106. Web site: <>.


Ehrle, Jennifer, et al. "Who's Caring for Our Youngest Children? Child Care Patterns of Infants and Toddlers." Urban Institute, January 1, 2001. Available online at <> (accessed January 11, 2005).

Fiene, Richard. "13 Indicators of Quality Child Care: Research Update." United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2002. Available online at <> (accessed January 11, 2005).

"Indicators of Child, Family, and Community Connections: Family, Work, and Child Care." United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2004. Available online at <> (accessed January 11, 2005).

Deanna M. Swartout-Corbeil, RN

Day Care

views updated May 09 2018


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1998, a record 59 percent of the 3.7 million mothers of infants were in the labor force (36% were working full-time); a total of 73 percent of the 31.3 million mothers of children older than one year were in the labor force (52% were working full-time). Although some working mothers cared for their children while they worked, most relied on some type of nonmaternal care, commonly known as child care or day care. The following information focuses on day care for children under five years old in three main sections: types of day care and demographic information; the effects of day care on children's development, including concerns about health as well as cognitive and social development; and day care as a social phenomenon.

Types of Day Care and Demographic Information

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1995, 75 percent of the 19.3 million children under age five were in some form of regular day-care arrangement. Multiple care arrangements were common; 44 percent regularly spent time in more than one arrangement per week (the average was two). Many types of day care were used. Whereas 50 percent of these children were cared for by relatives (such as a grandparent at 30% or the other parent at 18%), 49 percent were cared for by nonrelatives. Some children were cared for in their homes by a nonrelative such as a babysitter, nanny, or au pair (9%), while others were left with a nonrelative such as a friend or neighbor in the caregiver's home (9%).

Other types of nonrelative care include day-care centers (15%) and family day care (13%). A day-care center is an organized facility that is licensed to provide care for many children. Caregivers in centers can change often, and high turnover is frequently a problem. Family day cares are operated in a home environment and may or may not be licensed. States regulate licensed family day cares and day-care centers, and the standards among states vary (e.g., larger versus smaller adult to child ratios required). Some centers surpass state regulations to meet special accreditation standards (such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children, NAEYC).

Other types of care in organized facilities include nursery or preschools (14%), Head Start (3%), and school programs (2%). Nurseries and preschools are schools for young children that focus on specific learning activities and educational goals (for more information, see the Nursery/Preschool section). Head Start is a federally funded program that serves low-income families and children, typically ages three to four years, with the goal of increasing school readiness. Elementary schools may also offer care, either in preschool programs or through early kindergarten admittance.

The Census found that the use of day care was related to parental employment. Of the 25 percent of children under age five not in any regular day-care arrangement, 96 percent had a parent who was not working or in school. In contrast, of the 75 percent who were in a regular arrangement, 98 percent had a parent that was working or in school. On average, these children spent 35 hours per week in day care. Parents who were not working or in school also used day care; 43 percent of their children were in a regular arrangement, possibly for enrichment purposes or educational development.

The Census also found that the use of day care was related to certain family characteristics, including marital status, ethnicity, parental education, and child age. Children of never-married parents were more likely to be in relative (55%) than nonrelative care (40%); children with married parents were equally likely to be in either type (49% each). Concerning ethnicity, there were no large differences in use of relative or nonrelative care between European-American or African-American parents (about 50% of children in both groups were cared for in each type), but children of Hispanic parents were more likely to be in relative (43%) than nonrelative care (34%). For parental education, children of parents with at most a high school diploma were more likely to be in relative (48%) than nonrelative care (38%); those with parents with at least some college education were more likely to be in nonrelative (59%) than relative care (52%). Concerning child's age, only 19 percent of children under one year of age attended an organized facility, while 50 percent of children ages three or four years attended organized facilities.

Family income was also related to type of care used. Children of parents in poverty were more likely to be in relative (41%) than nonrelative care (32%). One factor that may contribute to this difference is that relatives are often not paid while nonrelatives are usually paid for their services. Children not in poverty were equally likely to be cared for in both types (about 53% each). In addition, poor families spent on average 35 percent of their annual income on day care; nonpoor spent only 7 percent on average. In 1997, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care found that mother's income, in particular, was associated with use of day care. Families that relied more on the mother's income placed their infants in day care at an earlier age and used it for more hours per week than families less dependant on the mother's income.

Effects of Day Care

The effect of day care on children's development is related to the quality of the care the children receive. The Cost, Quality, and Outcomes Study of Child Care (CQO) investigated this issue and identified three levels of quality: low, mediocre, and high. Table 1 provides characteristics of each level. Higher quality was related to higher caregiver wages, higher caregiver education and training, and lower adult to child ratios.

This study examined the prevalence of each quality level. For preschool-aged children, only 24 percent of the day-care center classrooms were of high quality, 66 percent were mediocre quality, and 10 percent were low quality. For infants and toddlers, only 8 percent of the classrooms were of high quality, 52 percent were mediocre quality, and a full 40 percent were low quality. In a separate study of family day cares, only 9 percent provided good quality care, and a full 35 percent provided care that was potentially harmful to children's development.

Health and Safety

The effects of day care on children's health and safety vary by the quality of the setting and the attention paid to these issues. Because their immune systems are not yet fully functional, infants and toddlers are more susceptible to illnesses than older children. Infectious diseases (mainly upper respiratory and gastrointestinal) are higher among children in family day care and day-care centers than among children cared for in their own homes. However, scrupulous attention to hand washing and hygiene can cut the rate of infectious disease transmission substantially. Children in day-care centers may also be prone to injuries if the playground equipment is unsafe. This risk can be reduced by paying attention to the height of playground structures and the resilience of the surface under the equipment. The American Association of Public Health and the American Academy of Pediatrics developed a document entitled "Caring for Our Children" that provides comprehensive health and safety guidelines for day-care facilities.

Cognitive Development

The effects of day care on cognitive development are also related to the quality of the setting. The CQO study found that children in higher quality day care demonstrated more advanced cognitive skills than children in lower quality care. Specifically, their language development was more advanced, and they had better premath skills. In addition, compared to children who received low quality care, children who received high quality care in their preschool years continued to show heightened cognitive skills into the early school years.

The NICHD study researched this issue further by examining both day care quality and family characteristics. This study also found care quality to be related to language development as well as school readiness. However, family characteristics (such as family income, mother's vocabulary, and the home environment) were more strongly associated with children's cognitive development than day-care experience. This study also compared children who were and were not in day care and found that when family factors were controlled for, few differences between the groups existed. Comparisons showed that children in high quality care sometimes scored higher than children in exclusive maternal care, and children in low quality care sometimes scored lower. More frequently than not, however, children in exclusive maternal care and children in day care scored similarly on cognitive measures.

Effects on Social Development

The effects of day care on social development are also associated with care quality. The CQO study found that children in higher quality day care had more positive attitudes about themselves, their relationships with peers were more positive, and their social skills were more advanced than were those in lower quality care. Further, the quality of the day care they had attended continued to be related to their social development in the early school years. Children who had close relationships with their day-care providers were rated as more sociable through kindergarten and as having fewer problem behaviors through second grade than children whose relationships with their day-care providers were not close. Also, children who had more positive classroom climates in day care were found to have better relationships with their peers in second grade. The NICHD study similarly found that care quality was associated with children's social development. However, they also noted that family characteristics, especially mother's sensitivity, were more strongly associated with children's behavior than their day-care experience (e.g., age of entry into care and care type).

One specific concern that the NICHD study addressed was whether using nonmaternal care affects the emotional attachment formed between infants and their mothers. The study found that the use of day care was not in and of itself associated with the quality of the attachment relationship. However, if mothers were low in sensitivity and the infants were either in poor quality care, in day care for more than ten hours per week, or experienced multiple settings before age fifteen months, then the infants were more likely to be insecurely attached to their mothers. Thus, the results suggest that the quality of mother-infant attachment is related to a combination of day care and home characteristics.

Day Care as a Social Phenomenon

The use of day care has increased dramatically as increasing numbers of mothers have chosen to work outside of the home. According to the U.S. Census, only 31 percent of mothers of infants were working in 1976. This percentage climbed to 47 percent in 1984 and to 59 percent in 1998. As mentioned in a review by Kathleen McCartney and Deborah Phillips, societal views of day care have also changed over time. When day care was first formally established in the United States, a stigma was attached to its use. In the late 1800s through the early 1900s, day nurseries were established to make up for the "poor home environments" of working immigrants. Societal views changed during the Great Depression and World War II, when the need for day care was seen as temporary;the expectation was that mothers would later return home to their children, and federal funds for day-care programs were immediately withdrawn after these crises were over. In the 1960s, educational day-care programs, such as Head Start (which began in 1965), were established to compensate for disadvantaged home environments. In contrast to day nurseries, which were established to make up for home environments that were viewed as poor because of deficiencies on behalf of the parents, the home environments were seen as disadvantaged due to factors beyond the parent's control such as poverty and discrimination in the 1960s. The focus of the programs in this later era was on educational intervention and increasing school readiness to overcome these factors. In the 1980s and 1990s, mothers who used day care were conflicted and felt pressured to stay home and work. As maternal employment becomes more normative, societal views may continue to shift.


In conclusion, day care is an important issue in the United States given the increasing numbers of working mothers. Given the low prevalence of high quality care and the potential effects of low quality care, an important task for workers in early childhood is to increase the availability of high quality care. In addition, parents who choose to use day care must carefully search for and select high quality care for their children.



Helburn, Suzanne, Mary L. Culkin, John Morris, et al. Cost, Quality, and Child Outcomes in Child Care Centers Public Report. Denver: University of Colorado, 1995.

Kontos, Susan, Carollee Howes, Marybeth Shinn, and Ellen Galinsky. Quality in Family Child Care and Relative Care. New York: Teachers College Press, 1995.

Kotch, Jonathan B., and Donna Bryant. "Effects of Day Care on the Health and Development of Children." Current Opinion in Pediatrics 2 (1990):883-894.

McCartney, Kathleen, and Deborah Phillips. "Motherhood and Child Care." In Beverly Birns and Dale F. Hay eds., The Different Faces of Motherhood. New York: Plenum, 1988.

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care Network. "Infant Child Care and Attachment Security: Results of the NICHD Study of Early Child Care." Child Development 68 (1997):860-879.

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care Network. "The Relation of Child Care to Cognitive and Language Development."Child Development 71 (2000):960-980.

Peisner-Feinberg, Ellen, Margaret R. Burchinal, Richard M. Clifford, et al. The Children of the Cost, Quality, and Outcomes Study Go to School Technical Report. Chapel Hill, NC: Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center, 2000.

Pungello, Elizabeth P., and Beth Kurtz-Costes. "Why and How Working Women Choose Child Care: A Review with a Focus on Infancy." Developmental Review 19 (1999):31-96.

Smith, Kristin. Who's Minding the Kids? Child Care Arrangements: Fall1995. Current Population Reports, P70-70. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau, 2000.

U.S. Census Bureau. Record Share of New Mothers in Labor Force, Census Bureau Reports. Press Release, October 24, 2000. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau, 2000.

Elizabeth P.Pungello

Daniel J.Bauer

Child Care

views updated Jun 11 2018


CHILD CARE. In modern industrial societies, child care is recognized as an essential social service for women seeking to enter the paid labor force or pursue education or training and, along with paid parental leave, as an essential component of gender equality. Today, the majority of mothers in the United States work outside the home, yet despite decades of advocacy on the part of American children's experts and feminists, there is still no comprehensive, publicly supported system of child care. Instead, provision is divided between the public and private sectors, with the bulk of public services linked to antipoverty "workfare" programs, and provisions vary widely in terms of form, quality, affordability, and accessibility. This "patchwork" system may be explained by the history of American child care, which has its origins in the seventeenth century.

Colonial and Nineteenth-Century Child Care

Both Native American hunter-gatherers and Euro-American farmers and artisans expected women as well as men to engage in productive labor, and both groups devised various methods, such as carrying infants in papooses or placing toddlers in "go-gins," to free adults to care for children while working at other tasks. Notably, neither group considered child care to be exclusively mothers' responsibility, instead distributing it among tribal or clan members (Native Americans), or among parents, older siblings, extended family, and servants (European Americans). Some of the colonies also boasted "dame schools," rudimentary establishments that accepted children as soon as they were weaned.

As industrialization moved productive work from farms and households to factories, it became increasingly difficult for mothers to combine productive and reproductive labor, making them more economically dependent on male breadwinners as they assumed sole responsibility for child care. As this role gained ideological force through concepts such as "Republican motherhood" and the "moral mother," maternal wage earning fell into disrepute, except in times of emergency, that is, when mothers lost their usual source of support. Female reforms sought to facilitate women's work in such instances by creating day nurseries to care for their children. The earliest such institution was probably the House of Industry, founded by the Female Society for the Relief and Employment of the Poor in Philadelphia in 1798. Throughout the nineteenth century, female philanthropists in cities across the nation (with the exception of the South) followed suit, establishing several hundred nurseries by 1900.

With few exceptions, nineteenth-century child care institutions excluded the children of free black mothers, most of whom were wage earners. Slave mothers, however, were compelled to place their children in whatever form of child care their owners devised. Slaveholders on large plantations set up "children's houses" where older slave children or older slaves no longer capable of more strenuous work cared for slave infants, while female slaves, denied the right to care for their own offspring, worked in the fields or became "mammies" to planters' children. After Emancipation, African American women continued to work outside the home in disproportionate numbers, prompting Mary Church Terrell, the founding president of the National Association of Colored Women, to remark that the day nursery was "a charity of which there is an imperative need." Black female reformers like those of Atlanta's Neighborhood Union responded by setting up nurseries and kindergartens for African American children.

By the turn of the century, the need for child care had reached critical proportions for Americans of all races, as increasing numbers of mothers either sought or were financially compelled to work outside the home. To point up the need for more facilities and improve their quality, a group of female reformers set up a "model day nursery" at the 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago and then founded a permanent organization, the National Federation of Day Nurseries (NFDN).

Despite being the first national advocate for child care, the NFDN made little headway in gaining popular acceptance of their services, due, in part, to their conservatism. Clinging to a nineteenth-century notion of day nurseries as a response to families in crisis, the NFDN failed to acknowledge the growing trend toward maternal employment. Meanwhile, among policy makers, momentum was shifting toward state-funded mothers' pensions intended to keep women without male breadwinners at home instead of going out to work. But many poor and low-income women did not qualify for pensions, and state funding often dried up, so maternal employment—and the need for child care—persisted. The NFDN, however, eschewed public support for nurseries, preferring to maintain control over their private charities, a decision that left them ill prepared to meet increasing demands. At the same time, day nurseries were coming under fire from reformers who compared them unfavorably to the new kindergartens and nursery schools being started by early childhood educators. But few day nurseries could afford to upgrade their equipment or hire qualified teachers to match those of the nursery schools.

The New Deal to World War II

The child care movement was poorly positioned to take advantage of federal support in the 1930s, when the New Deal administrator Harry Hopkins sought to create a Works Progress Administration (WPA) program that would both address the needs of young children who were "culturally deprived" by the Great Depression and provide jobs for unemployed school teachers. Instead, early childhood educators caught Hopkins's attention and took the lead in administering some 1,900 Emergency Nursery Schools. Though the educators did their best to regulate the quality of the schools, to many Americans they carried the stigma of "relief." Nonetheless, they served to legitimize the idea of education for very young children on an unprecedented scale.

The Emergency Nursery Schools were intended to serve the children of the unemployed, but in some instances, they also functioned as child care for wage-earning parents. With the onset of World War II, defense industries expanded, reducing the ranks of the unemployed, and many of the schools were shut down. A handful of federal administrators, aware that maternal employment was on the upswing, fought to convert the remaining schools into child care centers. These met some of the need for services until 1943, when more generous federal funding became available to local communities through the Lanham Act. However, the supply of child care could not keep up with demand. At its height, some 3,000 Lanham Act centers were serving 130,000 children—when an estimated 2 million slots were needed. Mothers who could not find child care devised informal arrangements, sending children to live with relatives, relying on neighbors who worked alternate shifts, or leaving older children to care for themselves—giving rise to the image of the infamous "latchkey" child.

The Postwar Period

Since both the WPA and Lanham Act programs had been presented as emergency measures to address specific national crises, they could not provide the basis for establishing permanent federally sponsored child care in the postwar period. The issue languished until the 1960s and 1970s, when it once again appeared on the public agenda, this time in conjunction with efforts to reform public assistance through a series of amendments to the Social Security Act, which authorized Aid to Families of Dependent Children. Around the same time, Congress also established Head Start, a permanent public program of early childhood education for the poor. Though it proved highly effective, Head Start was not considered child care until the 1990s. Congress did take a first step toward establishing universal child care in 1971, with passage of the Comprehensive Child Development Act, but President Nixon vetoed it with a strong Cold War message that effectively chilled further legislative efforts for the next several decades.

The lack of public provisions notwithstanding, the postwar decades witnessed a significant rise in maternal employment, which in turn prompted the growth of market-based child care services. This trend was aided by several federal measures, including the child care tax deduction passed in 1954 (and converted to a child care tax credit in 1972), as well as a variety of incentives to employers to set up or sponsor services for their employees, beginning in 1962. Market-based services included voluntary or nonprofit centers, commercial services, and small mom-and-pop or family child care enterprises. Quality varied widely and regulation was lax, in part due to the opposition from organized child care entrepreneurs.

Child Care and Welfare Reform

From the 1970s through the 1990s, the link between child care and welfare reform was reinforced by passage of a series of mandatory employment measures that also included child care provisions. The Family Support Act of 1988, which mandated employment or training for most applicants, including mothers of small children, also required states to provide child care; by the mid-1990s, however, the states were serving only about 13 to 15 percent of eligible children. At the same time, efforts to pass more universal legislation continued to meet strong opposition from conservatives like President George H. W. Bush, who believed that middle-class women should re-main at home with their children. In 1990, Congress passed the Act for Better Child Care Services (the ABC bill), a compromise that expanded funding for Head Start and provided forms of child care assistance (including the Earned Income Tax Credit). To satisfy conservative calls for devolution to the states, it initiated a new program called the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG).

The final link between child care and workfare was forged with passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996, legislation that was twice vetoed by President Bill Clinton, not because of its stringent work requirements for poor women, but for having inadequate child care provisions. When PRWORA came up for renewal in 2002, much of the debate turned around the issue of child care and whether proposed funding levels would provide sufficient services so that recipients could meet increasingly stringent work requirements. Among middle-and upper-income families, the demand for child care remains high, with parents relying on private-sector services, baby sitting cooperatives, and "nannies," many of whom are undocumented workers. Despite growing concern about the impact of low-quality care on children of all social classes, prospects for universal public child care remain dim, as the division between public and private child care produces a divided constituency that cannot mobilize sufficient political pressure to bring about the necessary legislative changes.


Michel, Sonya. Children's Interests / Mothers' Rights: The Shaping of America's Child Care Policy. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1999.

Michel, Sonya, and Rianne Mahon. Child Care Policy at the Crossroads: Gender and Welfare State Restructuring. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Rose, Elizabeth. A Mother's Job: The History of Day Care, 1890–1960. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.


See alsoHead Start ; Maternal and Child Health Care ; Welfare System .

Day Care

views updated May 17 2018

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

Child Care

views updated May 11 2018


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.

Child Care

views updated May 29 2018



Child care has always been problematic. In nineteenth-century industrial society, child care was a social necessity resulting from mothers working. At the time, solutions were most often found on an individual basis, by having the children looked after by relatives, neighbors, or a nanny. As early as 1844, Firmin Marbeau in France conceived the idea of a model day care center, which constituted the first stage in the development of a comprehensive education system for working-class children, including "mothers' schools" for women who were obliged to work. The nursery, which was supposed to substitute for mothers during working hours, was to become a powerful instrument of control over social and family life, aiming to turn working women into worthy mothers and housewives. The idea was soon to be taken over in other countries.

In the twentieth century, the period between the two world wars was a time of paradoxes. Interest in the family had never been so vivid, and the role of the mother became a central issue. The obsession with demography sparked by massive loss of life during World War I gave rise to the widespread conviction that work outside the home was incompatible with a woman's natural destiny as mother and wife, and care for the child became a key political issue. The nineteenth-century conception of the child as an asset gave way to the idea of the child as a responsibility and subsequently to the child as an "idol," demanding total physical and psychological commitment on the part of the mother. As a result, motherhood came to be viewed as a vocational activity, a fundamental social function requiring careful monitoring and management, and national associations were created for the training of mothers and the protection of children. The nursery consultations and home visits set up by these bodies clearly reflected an intention to exert control over social and family life.

Numerous moralists viewed these nurseries as a necessary evil that ought to be resorted to only in case of absolute necessity and not advocated as a standard solution. An interview with applicant families prior to admission was often required, allowing the service providers to monitor the environment within which the child grew up. Evening meals, most often limited to soup, were distributed, a practice that lasted into the 1970s. Children could now be entrusted to private child minders, host families, or neighbors in return for payment. In certain villages and the suburbs of large cities, child care even evolved into a specialized activity.

The availability of child care facilities played a key role in the maintenance of women on the labor market after the birth of a child. In most European countries, given the growing ratio of women, and especially young mothers, in the workforce, the post–World War II years witnessed increasing state intervention in the domain of family politics and the development of different forms of child care. Thus, for example, several Western European countries devoted a substantial effort to facilitating child care, whether in the form of extended funding for parental leave or a considerable increase in the provision of public child care. In Sweden, parental leave was instituted in 1974, and the provision of public care centers has kept growing ever since (from 2 percent in the 1960s to 10 percent in the early 1970s and 50 percent in 1994). In 1995 a law obliged boroughs to provide access to a care center for all children aged one to six. In the Netherlands, where public accommodation for children under three was practically nonexistent in the early 1980s, an active public policy allowed the creation of seventy thousand additional places in a very short time span.

But in the years since the 1980s, a period marked by increasing unemployment and the crisis of the welfare state, these policies have been called into question, and one cannot but observe a breakdown in both the quality and quantity of child care centers. Moreover, since the downfall of the communist regimes, whose impressive network of child care facilities was the object of a specific government policy, a reduction in the number of centers has been felt throughout Eastern Europe as well.

It would be an error, however, to believe that the opposition between the traditional view advocating the return of mothers to the home to look after their children and a more progressive view, emphasizing the equal distribution of domestic and family responsibilities between fathers and mothers, coincides with the traditional split between right- and left-wing political tendencies. Thus in Sweden it was a right-wing government dominated by conservatives that passed a bill obliging boroughs to provide accommodation in a collective facility for every child aged one or more, while in France it was under François Mitterrand's socialist presidency that the AGED (Allocation de Garde d'Enfant à Domicile) was introduced, encouraging parents to provide care for their children at home.

Yet throughout Europe the growing proportion of women in the workforce and the evolution of social perspectives and pedagogy have led to an ever increasing demand for child care outside the home. In 2000, if one excepts the Scandinavian countries, which have always been in the vanguard of child care policies, the highest rate of children from three to six entrusted to outside care was in France, Belgium, and Italy. In France in the late twentieth century, 95 percent of all children in this age bracket attended a nursery school, and a range of other facilities was offered for children of school age. But the accommodation of children under three in state-financed facilities in Europe is more limited, whatever the country. In countries like England or Germany, family matters are generally regarded as belonging to the private domain, and as a result, such facilities as are available are private or depend on arrangements within the family. In the Mediterranean countries, where the social structure is still heavily marked by intergenerational solidarity, the public authorities have little say in the care provided for young children. The ratio of children under three accommodated in public-service facilities is 3 percent in Italy and practically nil in Spain, Ireland, and Germany. By contrast, Sweden, Denmark, and to a lesser degree France, Holland, and Belgium have favored the development of small-scale child care structures. In Denmark over 50 percent of the children under three are looked after in publicly financed structures, compared to 30 percent in Belgium and Sweden. In France the number of places available to children under three in collective structures has grown from 36,000 in 1969 to 267,000 in 1999, and demand keeps growing. Throughout Europe, one may also observe the appearance of individual or neighborhood initiatives like parent-managed care centers, in which parents take turns caring for each others' children to compensate for the deficit in public-service facilities.

In Germany the traditional mother-child relationship has prevailed in the western half of the country. Child care centers are still rare and recourse to kindergartens has been a late development. In the 1960s only one-third of the children between four and six would attend a nursery school, as the medical discourse on the risk of contamination and illness and family beliefs about the psychological hazards of early separation between mother and child long prevailed over arguments favorable to entrusting young children to collective care.

Thus concerns about child care have varied from one country to another, conditioned notably by differing political and institutional environments, and have been associated with health, hygiene, economic, demographic, or pedagogical issues or shaped by ideas such as the role of the mother in the household or equality between men and women. Together or separately, all these issues have come to determine family policies. Early-childhood policies have always been fraught with heavy gender connotations, as the domain of child care has long remained a female prerogative and has, as a result, been credited with only minor economic and cultural value.

See alsoChildhood and Adolescence; Domestic Service; Welfare State.


Bock, Gisela, and Pat Thane, eds. Maternity and Gender Politics: Women and the Rise of the Welfare State, 1880s–1950s. London, 1991.

European Commission Network on Childcare. A Review of Services for Young Children in the European Union, 1990–1995. Brussels, 1996.

Fenet, Francine, Frédérique Leprince, and Liliane Périer. Les modes d'accueil des jeunes enfants. Paris, 2002

Heinen, Jacqueline, ed. La petite enfance: pratiques et politiques. Paris, 1998.

ValÉrie Piette

child care

views updated Jun 27 2018

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.