Lack of Access to Child Care Impacts Child Well-Being
Earlier this summer, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released their annual KIDS COUNT® Data Book, which has been measuring child well-being at the state level since 1990. The report ranks states based on indicators in four areas: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. In addition to exposing differences across states, this year’s Data Book makes comparisons between 2019 and 2021 to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted children. Overall, half of the indicators worsened since before the pandemic, and only four saw improvement, with researchers concluding that child well-being has declined slightly since last year.
This year’s Data Book includes an extensive forward specifically about child care, and how the lack of affordable and accessible child care is hurting children, families, and the economy. Quality child care supports children’s healthy development, allows parents to provide for their families, and strengthens the economy both by getting parents back to work in the short term and supporting children’s success in the long term.
Our country’s child care challenges are not new, but the pandemic brought these problems to the forefront. Annie E. Casey found that in 2020–21, 13% of respondents with children under age five experienced job challenges, such as quitting, changing, or refusing a job offer, due to child care problems. They reported that women are five to eight times more likely than men to experience negative consequences with employment because of their caregiving responsibilities.
Looking across states at the price of toddler care and median income, Annie E. Casey found that center-based care creates the largest cost burden for married couples with children in Nevada (15%), Colorado (14%) and New York (14%), and that home-based care creates the largest cost burden in New Mexico (12%), Nevada (11%), California (10%), Colorado (10%), New York (10%) and Washington (10%).
The report explained how inaccessibility is about more than the high cost—there is also a shortage of child care in many parts of the country. Reliable care is especially hard to find for families in rural areas and families working nontraditional hours. And it is not only families that are suffering, the current system also fails providers and the economy at large. Working in child care is one of the lowest paid professions, with a majority of the workforce relying on some form of public assistance to make ends meet.
Federal, state, and local policymakers have been taking steps to address the child care crisis, but existing efforts do not go far enough. Policy reforms and additional funding are sorely needed. Annie E. Casey offers the following policy recommendations:
- Increase investments in child care. This includes leveraging what is left of pandemic relief funds, as well as increasing public funding for pre-K and Head Start. They also call for reauthorizing the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) to make subsidies more accessible for families.
- Strengthen home-based child care. The report recommends lowering barriers to entry for potential providers and supporting existing home-based providers.
- Expand the federal Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) program. Expanding CCAMPIS could make higher education more accessible to parents with young children.
This forward on child care adds important perspective to the typical Data Book indicators. While all of the traditional indicators are related to child well-being, only one of them looks specifically at early care and education. Annie E. Casey has been tracking the percentage of children ages three and four who are not in school, and found that there was no progress over almost a decade: 53% were not in school between 2012–16 compared to 54% from 2017–21.
It’s important to keep in mind that in 2021, when many of these data points were sourced, states were dealing with the challenges of the pandemic and benefiting from substantial COVID relief dollars, which supported child well-being in various ways. With these funds set to expire soon, state and local governments must leverage these dollars to best serve families.
Check out the KIDS COUNT® Data Book for a full state-by-state analysis. And for additional data on child and family well-being, the KIDS COUNT Data Center is another valuable resource for policymakers, advocates, and practitioners.