Journal Issue: Financing Child Care Volume 6 Number 2 Summer/Fall 1996
The number of children being cared for in a child care or early education program has soared over past decades, driven by increases in the number of women in the work force, changes in family structure, and parents' desire to provide children with educational experiences to prepare them for school.1 (See also the article by Cohen in this journal issue.) In 1995, for example, 60% of children from birth to five years of age who had not yet enrolled in school—13 million children—participated in a nonparental child care or early education program.2 Child care is no longer an experience for a few children; it is rapidly becoming the norm.
Just as child care is becoming the norm for children, struggling to secure a child care arrangement is becoming the norm for parents. Parents face an almost bewildering array of choices: friends and relatives, child care programs operated either publicly or privately, as either independent businesses or as part of a chain, either regulated by state agencies or not, and staffed by individuals with widely varying training and experience. Parents must weigh considerations of quality and convenience, of availability and affordability as they choose care, all the while worrying about whether they have made the right decision.
The results of parents' struggles can be seen by examining who provides care for the young children in America. This article reviews the results of several representative national surveys and additional research studies to compare child care arrangements today with those of two and three decades ago.3–9 The data indicate that some shortages may exist and that, over the past decades, parents have been paying more to place their children in settings of declining quality. Such placements have negative implications for parents' ability to enter and remain in the work force and, as discussed in the article by Helburn and Howes in this journal issue, for children's development.