The Washington, DC-based think tank, New America recently published Care In America a comprehensive look at the cost, quality, and availability of child care throughout the United States. The publication makes a bold statement by asserting that the child care system in the United States is broken and does not adequately serve the 12 million US children with working parents. The authors base their conclusion on several facts:
- The cost of center based child care is exceedingly high.
- High-quality care (as measured by the percentage of facilities accredited, which is more stringent than Partnerships for Early Learners’ definition of high-quality) is limited.
- There are sections of the country where the availability of regulated care does not meet the demand.
- Twenty percent of parents have to patch together more than one child care arrangement during a typical week.
What is the picture in Indiana?
The report also includes a “care index” that looks at some of these factors for each state. According to the data they collected, Indiana is pretty typical and doesn’t deviate too significantly from national trends. They estimate the average cost of full-time, center-based child care for children 0-4 to be $7,650 which translates to 32 percent of the average household income in Indiana. In terms of child care quality, Indiana has slightly higher percentage of programs that are accredited as compared to the national average of 11 percent of programs. With respect to availability, which they calculate as the ratio of child care staff to the number of children 0-5 in the state, Indiana ranks slightly lower than the national average. Unfortunately given Indiana’s a sizeable rural population, it is likely that there are pockets of “child care deserts” in many Hoosier communities – areas where there is no or very little regulated care available to parents. This leads parents to select what this report calls, “gray market” care – informal or unregulated child care programs.
If Child Care in the US is “broken,” what do we do to fix it?
The Care In America’s authors propose four policy recommendations to improve the system:
- Paid Family Leave
Allowing parents to take paid time off to care for infants would reduce the amount of time needed for costly and, often, hard to find infant care. Additionally, paid family leave would allow parents to make care decisions based on child rearing preferences rather than on economic need.
- Cash Assistance
The US Department of Health and Human Services states that in order for child care to be considered “affordable” it should not cost more than 10 percent of a parent’s income, but in Indiana the average cost of licensed child care centers makes up 32 percent of the average household income in the state. By providing low-income families a way to supplement the cost of child care, the authors suggest that it would be easier for low-income and middle-income families to afford the costs associated with formal child care arrangements rather than relying on unregulated or informal care providers that tend to be less expensive.
- Publically Funded Pre-K
Ensuring that preschool-aged children have access to high-quality education supports the positive development of these children. Furthermore, the use of public funds to provide education reduces the cost burden associated with finding care while the children’s parents are working. Indiana has piloted two pre-k programs, On My Way Pre-K and Early Education Matching Grants, which target participation to children in extremely low-income families. As publically funded pre-k in Indiana exists currently, only about 2,000 students are accessing these programs and the On My Way Pre-K programs cannot serve all of the children who apply for enrollment due to funding limitations.
- Dual Language Learners
Research has shown that children whose native language is not English benefit the most from high-quality early childhood education, yet it can be difficult for families who do not speak English to access high-quality learning environments. These families face significant language barriers that can result in them opting out of more formalized child care settings. By targeting these families with supports such as program applications in their home language and targeted outreach into their communities, some of the neediest children can benefit from existing programs like On My Way Pre-K and Early Education Matching Grants programs.
What can and could Indiana do to expand access and quality?
Indiana has invested in pre-k programs, however, seats remain limited and access to those funds varies by geography and quality level. Programs wishing to offer pre-k programs must be rated a three or four in the Paths to QUALITY™ program and there are several rural counties that do not currently have any programs that meet that criteria. This reality points to the need for the development of new high-quality programs in these counties or for existing programs to achieve a higher Paths to QUALITY™ level. Indiana Paths to QUALITY™ efforts include a network of coaches that work directly with providers to help them improve their quality and advance levels within the program, but this is often difficult and sometimes slow work, particularly in communities that have a limited supply of licensed programs.
Partnerships for Early Learners and our diverse program partners are working daily to increase the supply of programs and to improve program quality across the state. You can explore our Quality Improvement and Capacity Building efforts today. To date, this work has added more than 500 high-quality seats for Hoosier children and engaged more than 50 Indiana programs through our Lilly work alone. Indiana’s nine child care resource and referral agencies also work daily to expand quality and access in early learning programs as essential pieces of the Paths to QUALITY™ system.
The Care in America report delineates the problems the authors see within the early childhood field and while many of the problems are large and require large systemic change, true change often begins at a local level. Knowing about and supporting local efforts designed to affect policy change is a great way to assert your voice and actively help improve the early childhood system in your local community. The Care In America report can be accessed here: https://www.newamerica.org/in-depth/care-report/
As the Fellow of Paths to QUALITY™ Enhancement Initiatives, Emily Rouge researches and studies early childhood quality improvement systems in Indiana and nationally. In this position, Emily provides research and rationale for strengthening Indiana’s quality initiatives and other early care and education policy issues. Emily started her career as a preschool and kindergarten teacher and went on to pursue additional education in human development and family studies. These perspectives allow Emily to understand how early care and education systems, the regulatory climate, families, and communities interact — and how those interactions impact the development of young children. Emily enjoys working with the Partnerships for Early Learners team because it gives her a platform for translating research and data into meaningful information and actionable recommendations, with the ultimate goal of ensuring that young children in Indiana have a solid foundation for growth and development.