Journal Issue: When School Is Out Volume 9 Number 2 Fall 1999
National Data Sources
The 16 nationally representative surveys of the prevalence of self-care among children within the ages of 5 to 14 years all report estimates between 4% and 23%, with the vast majority falling within the range of 7% to 14%.14 Common sense appears to explain the very highest and lowest estimates: The 4% represents the percentage of children in self-care before school; the 23% represents the prevalence in 1971 of self-care among children of mothers ages 34 to 48, who likely had children at the older end of the grade school age range.15 However, because of the variability among the surveys, little more may be gleaned by comparing them.The National Child Care Survey, 1990
Conducted by the Urban Institute in a public-private partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the NCCS collected data nationally representative of households with children under age 13.9 The NCCS provides estimates of the prevalence of children who care for themselves by age of child, by employment status of the mother, and by a variety of other demographic and descriptive characteristics of the child and family. The NCCS also distinguishes between children for whom self-care is the primary (most frequently used) care arrangement and those for whom caring for themselves is a secondary or less frequent arrangement. In this article, children in both categories are designated "in regular self-care," defined as those who were reported to be left on their own on a regular basis, at least once a week in the past two weeks. "In regular self-care" thus does not include occasional episodes of self-care, but does include self-care as the primary, secondary, or less frequently used care arrangement.16
The NCCS reports that for 0.1% of 5-year-olds, 0.9% of 6- to 9-year-olds, and 5.2% of 10- to 12-year-olds, self-care was the primary form of care. Among children of employed mothers, 0.3% of 5-year-olds, 1.3% of 6- to 9-year-olds, and 6.8% of 10- to 12-year-olds were reported to experience self-care as their primary care arrangement. Much higher percentages of children were reportedly in regular self-care: 2.2% of all 5- to 7-year-olds, 10.7% of 8- to 10-year-olds, and 31.5% of 11- to 12-year-olds.The Survey of Income and Program Participation, 1995
The U.S. Census Bureau collected Wave 9 of the 1993 panel of the SIPP during the fall of 1995. The SIPP collected data from a nationally representative sample of households on all child care arrangements used by the household's four youngest children under 14 years of age. Data was collected for all children regardless of their parents' work status.17
The 1995 SIPP data had not been fully analyzed and published as this journal went to press. In addition, the SIPP definition of self-care, "usually in self-care in a typical week in the last month," is different from the concept of "in regular self-care" used in the NCCS. Nonetheless, unpublished research conducted by Census Bureau staff indicates that the 1995 SIPP results are similar to those from the 1990 NCCS. In both surveys, 12% of children ages 5 to 12 years experienced self-care.18 The same research provides detailed information about the demographic characteristics of children in self-care, some of which is discussed in the next section.