About Child Care

This section details common child care settings, the economic benefits of high-quality child care for families and their employers,  the developmental and educational benefits of high-quality child care for young children and how Child Care Aware of America can help families access early an learning setting for their children.


Child Care Settings

Every week in the United States, over 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. While families 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, safety, and readiness for school.

When in a child care arrangement, 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. A growing number of families working in low-wage positions require child care offered during non-traditional hours.

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

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Child Care is Good for Businesses and Helps Families Work

Families need safe, affordable child care options in order to work, further their education, earn additional income for their family in the short term, and become a stable member of the labor force with higher earnings in the long term. Employers consistently report that the availability of quality child care improves productivity and reduces absenteeism and turnover.

  • Child care affects businesses’ bottom line. U.S. businesses lose $4.4 billion annually due to employee absenteeism as the result of child care breakdowns.
  • Every six months, 45 percent of employed parents experienced  some kind of child care breakdown, resulting in missing an average of 4.3 days of work.
  • $28.9 billion in wages are lost annually by working families who do not have access to affordable child care and paid family and medical leave.
  • Millennial women, who are responsible for 80 percent of the babies born today, are a growing part of the American workforce. Eighty-three percent report they would leave their job for one with more family-friendly benefits.

Learn more about the true cost of child care.

The U.S. Department of Defense also recognizes the direct impact child care availability and quality has on military personnel and has enacted 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. Learn more about how Child Care Aware® of  America supports military programs.

Child Care is Early Education

Child care programs have a profound and long-lasting effect on children’s learning and development. Although the most immature organ in the human body at birth, by age 5, the brain grows to approximately 90 percent of its full size. Early experiences, such as those in child care, shape a child’s health, development, and long-term success. 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 early learning programs:

  • Do better throughout K-12th grades.
  • 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.

While quality child care has a positive benefit on all children, the impact is particularly strong for children in families with low incomes. In fact, economists have estimated the long-term rate of return for high-quality early interventions is as much as 16 percent for children in families whose circumstances place them at a disadvantage. Among children in families with challenging circumstances, 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 children in families earning low incomes.

Learn how we are helping caregivers turn everyday moments into brain-building moments.

Child Care Aware® of America

Child Care Aware® of America works to ensure that families in every community have access to high quality, affordable child care and early learning settings. In coordination with local Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) agencies in your community, we can help you find the information and resources you need to begin your child care search and choose a quality program for your child. Call (1-800) 424-2246 or visit www.childcareaware.org to get started.

Child Care Aware of America

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