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Introduction

Federal child care policy has evolved over the past 50 years in fits and starts, with a peak investment made during World War II that even current funding does not match. What has been consistent, however, is the rapid growth in reliance on child care, particularly over the past three decades. As of 1993, 9.9 million children under age 5 were in need of care while their mothers were at work (Bureau of the Census, 1995). Approximately 1.6 million of these children lived in families with monthly incomes below $1,500. An additional 22.3 million children ages 5 to 14 had working mothers, many of whom required child care during nonschool hours. Over half of all infants under age 1 are now in some form of nonmaternal care, with the majority enrolled for 30 hours or more per week (Hofferth et al., 1991). The high costs of child care, as well as increasing understanding of the importance of children's early experiences for their future development, have also heightened national attention to this issue.

Federal funds allocated to families for child care have doubled since 1980; funds targeted to low-income families have almost tripled (Hofferth, 1993). Despite the proliferation of child care programs, however, most states find that they are far from serving all low-income families who are eligible for assistance (U.S. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, 1994). As families' reliance on child care continues to grow, many issues involving service delivery and financing, the quality and sta-



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Child Care for Low-Income Families: Summary of Two Workshops 1 Introduction Federal child care policy has evolved over the past 50 years in fits and starts, with a peak investment made during World War II that even current funding does not match. What has been consistent, however, is the rapid growth in reliance on child care, particularly over the past three decades. As of 1993, 9.9 million children under age 5 were in need of care while their mothers were at work (Bureau of the Census, 1995). Approximately 1.6 million of these children lived in families with monthly incomes below $1,500. An additional 22.3 million children ages 5 to 14 had working mothers, many of whom required child care during nonschool hours. Over half of all infants under age 1 are now in some form of nonmaternal care, with the majority enrolled for 30 hours or more per week (Hofferth et al., 1991). The high costs of child care, as well as increasing understanding of the importance of children's early experiences for their future development, have also heightened national attention to this issue. Federal funds allocated to families for child care have doubled since 1980; funds targeted to low-income families have almost tripled (Hofferth, 1993). Despite the proliferation of child care programs, however, most states find that they are far from serving all low-income families who are eligible for assistance (U.S. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, 1994). As families' reliance on child care continues to grow, many issues involving service delivery and financing, the quality and sta-

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Child Care for Low-Income Families: Summary of Two Workshops bility of care, and systematic data collection on child care remain unaddressed. Child care for children in low-income families is of special interest in light of current reforms in education and welfare that are likely to increase the numbers of very young low-income children in child care and to augment pressures on preschool settings to foster children's preparation for school. It is in this context that the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requested the Board on Children and Families to conduct a series of workshops on child care. The workshops focused on poor and low-income families using typical community- and family-based arrangements, as distinct from enriched early intervention programs. Low-income families include the working and nonworking poor, as well as those living just above the poverty line. Different studies discussed at the workshops apply different income cutoffs when defining low-income samples for research purposes, and income-eligibility cutoffs for public subsidies vary across states. In general, however, low-income was seldom defined to include families with annual incomes above $18,000; more typically, the term was defined to include families with incomes below $15,000, which now encompass one out of every four children under age 6 (Hernandez, 1995). The Board on Children and Families established a steering committee to oversee the workshops, the members of which are listed at the beginning of this report. Through presentations and interactive discussions at three workshops, the participants: distilled the conclusions of available research about child care for low-income and poor families, particularly research conducted since the 1990 publication of Who Cares for America's Children? by the National Research Council (Hayes et al., 1990), examined the current status of the child care delivery system and the extent to which the issues raised from this perspective are addressed by research, and considered promising directions for future research on child care and its articulation with the information needs of policy experts, program administrators, and practitioners. This report summarizes the deliberations of the first two workshops (the appendix contains the agendas for the two workshops), which focused on what we know from research and from the vantage point of service delivery about the current status of child care for low-income fami-

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Child Care for Low-Income Families: Summary of Two Workshops lies. A companion report summarizes the discussion of research priorities for the future (the focus of the third workshop). The workshops were designed to provide a forum for cross-fertilization of ideas among researchers studying child care from differing disciplinary vantage points and to integrate knowledge about child care that is being generated by empirical research, national and regional demonstration projects, and community intervention efforts. The workshop participants included researchers from a range of disciplines (e.g., child development, sociology, economics, political science), federal agency heads and staff, congressional staff, state and local child care administrators, and representatives from the private sector. The participants were keenly aware of the contentiousness that surrounds discussions of child care. They were also cognizant of the numerous pressures that are now impinging on the existing child care system —for greater efficiency and consolidation, more state and local discretion, and accountability for outcomes. Their own perspectives about how best to respond to these pressures varied widely. They shared, however, a concern about the adequacy of available child care for low-income children and a belief in the value of research as a guide for future policy developments in this area. Over the course of the first two workshops, the discussion converged on several issues, which provide the structure of the report: Factors affecting patterns of child care use among low-income families (Chapter 2); Child care and children's development: safety, quality, and continuity (Chapter 3); Child care and economic self-sufficiency (Chapter 4); and The structure and consequences of child care subsidies (Chapter 5). The final chapter provides a summary of the cross-cutting conclusions from the workshops. The information in this report captures many of the prevailing issues and tensions that are driving efforts to reconsider the basic structure of public support for child care. Many insights and impressions were offered by the workshop participants, the richness of which this report attempts to capture. The Board on Children and Families hopes that it will be a stimulus to more thorough and ongoing consideration by other groups of how best to meet the needs of children when their parents are working or preparing for work.