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Journal Issue: Children and Welfare Reform Volume 12 Number 1 Winter/Spring 2002

Welfare Reform and Child Care Options for Low-Income Families
Bruce Fuller Sharon L. Kagan Gretchen L. Caspary Christiane A. Gauthier


For the changes under welfare reform to positively affect children, the gains that mothers make from employment must lead to improvements in children's daily settings at home, in child care, at school, or in the community. This article focuses on the role child care can play in promoting the development of, and life opportunities for, low-income children. Key observations include:

  • Total federal and state funding for child care for welfare and working poor families has increased dramatically since welfare reform, from $2.8 billion in 1995 to $8.0 billion in 2000.

  • The majority of welfare mothers tend to rely on informal child care arrangements when first participating in welfare-to-work programs, but as they move off welfare and into more stable jobs, they are more likely to choose a center or a family child care home.

  • Although children from poor households stand to benefit the most from high-quality care, they are less likely to be enrolled in high-quality programs than are children from affluent families, partly due to uneven access to high-quality options in their neighborhoods.

  • Less than one-quarter of all eligible families use child care subsidies, and usage varies widely across states and local areas reflecting various barriers to access and scarcity of quality center-based care.

The authors conclude that to achieve welfare reform's ultimate goal of breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty and dependence on government benefits, welfare-to-work programs should promote learning and development among children in welfare and working poor families by increasing access to high-quality child care in low-income neighborhoods.