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Journal Issue: Financing Child Care Volume 6 Number 2 Summer/Fall 1996

Child Care Cost and Quality
Suzanne W. Helburn Carollee Howes


This article summarizes what is known about the cost and quality of full-time child care in centers and family child care homes, and about parents' attention to quality in making child care choices. It relies primarily upon two recent studies which are among the first to collect detailed information about child care operating costs: the Cost, Quality, and Child Outcomes in Child Care Centers study 1 and the Economics of Family Child Care study.2,3 Results indicate that mediocre quality is the rule and that parents often do not choose quality settings for their children. At the present time, child care quality is only modestly related to the cost of providing services. In part, the modesty of this relationship reflects the low wages of child care staff, the availability of in-kind donations in the nonprofit sector, and the altruistic motivations of many providers that depress direct costs and the fees charged for child care. The article concludes with recommendations for future action: (1) launch consumer education efforts; (2) implement higher standards for child care at the state level; (3) avoid public policies that encourage people to become child care providers if they have no interest in such a career; (4) increase public and private investments in child care; and (5) develop the means to compensate child care workers as is appropriate for their levels of training, experience, and responsibility.