About Child Care

This section details common child care settings, the economic benefits of high- quality child care for parents and their employers, and the developmental and educational benefits of high-quality child care for young children.

Nearly 11 million children under the age of five across the nation require child care services each week. High-quality child care not only helps parents to be more productive at work, but also provides benefits to young children, including improving school readiness.

Child Care Settings

Every week in the United States, nearly 11 million children younger than age five are in some type of child care arrangement. On average, these children spend 36 hours a week in child care.1 While parents are children’s first and most important teachers, child care programs provide early learning opportunities for millions of young children daily, having a profound impact on their development and readiness for school.

The majority of children attend child care centers, followed by care from family members, family child care homes, and family, friends and neighbors. Twenty-six percent of children are in more than one child care arrangement during the week.

While families access many types of child care, this report analyzes the cost of care in legally operating child care centers and family child care homes. Legally operating programs include licensed programs and child care programs that are legally exempt from licensing. For example, in some states centers operated by religious organizations or family child care homes that care for five or fewer children are license-exempt.

Child Care Helps Parents Work

Employers consistently report that the availability of quality child care improves productivity and reduces absenteeism and turnover.

  • U.S. businesses lose $3 billion annually due to employee absenteeism as the result of child care breakdowns.
  • During a three-month period, 29 percent of employed parents experienced some kind of child care breakdown, resulting in absenteeism, tardiness and reduced concentration at work.
  • Child care affects businesses’ bottom line. A 2009 study showed that employees leaving their jobs for child care related reasons represented a potential $6 million loss to employers in downtown Santa Barbara, a community of less than 91,000 residents. Parents in this study ranked cost as their top child care challenge.

Child Care is Early Education

The call for quality child care programs comes from a growing understanding of the long- term impact of this early investment. Longitudinal studies show that children in higher quality programs:

  • Do better in school.
  • Are less likely to require special education services.
  • Are more likely to attend college.
  • Are more likely to earn higher wages and pay more in taxes
  • Are less likely to be involved in the criminal justice system.

There are examples of recognition of the impact child care has on the bottom line and innovative strategies to address this challenge. Since the late 1980s the U.S. Department of Defense has developed a comprehensive child care system as a core strategy to increase military readiness, improve job satisfaction, and increase rates of re-enlistment, saving the military significant amounts of money annually.

While quality child care has a positive benefit on all children, the impact is particularly strong for children in low-income families. Among vulnerable children, high-quality programs provide more benefits and low- quality programs have a greater negative impact.

Children in higher quality early learning programs have better cognitive outcomes, including measurably better reading, math skills, language/vocabulary, and applied problem solving. These cognitive outcomes are particularly strong for low-income children.

Parent Perspectives

Child Care Aware® of America has conducted several national parent polls and focus groups throughout the country to better understand what parents look for in child care, the assumptions they make about licensed care, the choices they have in their community and policies they would support to strengthen the quality of child care. Read more about these reports and the perspectives of parents and grandparents in child care.

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Child Care Aware of America