Child care refers to the action of looking after children, usually from age six weeks to age thirteen years. There is a major gap between parents' views and research experts' assessments of
the quality of child care in the United States, revealed a new poll by NPR/Robert Wood Johnson
Foundation/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Most parents (59%) believe their
child receives "excellent" quality child care. By contrast, the most
recent major study on the state of U.S. child care suggests a majority
of child care is not high quality.
‘There is a major gap between parents' views and research experts' assessments of the quality of child care in the United States.’
NPR, RWJF, and the Harvard Chan School polled 1,120 parents or
guardians of children five-years old or younger who were not yet in
kindergarten and received regularly scheduled care at least once a week
from someone other than a parent, and found that about three in five
parents (59%) rate the quality of care their child receives as
However, findings from the National Institute of Child
Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth
Development published in 2006 indicated that a majority of child care in
the U.S. is of "fair" quality.
"This poll gives voice to the challenges that many parents face in
finding high quality and affordable care for their children," says
Gillian SteelFisher, Deputy Director of the Harvard Opinion Research
Program at Harvard Chan School, who directed the poll.
Cost is the most common challenge in finding child care reported by
parents (27%). It continues to be an issue once parents have found child
care, with about one in three (31%) who pay a fee for their child care
saying it causes a financial problem for their families. The burden of
cost is felt in particular by parents who report that their financial
situation is not strong, with more than half (61%) of those parents
saying the cost of child care has caused a financial problem.
Further, two out of three parents (67%) report that they had limited
options for child care. Parents who feel their financial situation is
not strong are more likely to say they had limited options (79%) than
their counterparts with strong finances.
Despite the challenges, most parents feel child care has benefited
their families. Over half of parents report that child care has had a
very positive impact on their child's well-being (72%), overall learning
(67%), and physical health (58%). Furthermore, many parents -
especially mothers - say child care has had had a very positive impact
on their own well-being (62%) and their relationship with the child
Parents also feel that child care has lasting effects, with most
saying it has a major impact on a child's overall well-being (86%),
health (62%), and job success later in life (52%), for example.
Substantial shares of parents say their child care does not have
policies to promote health, such as providing a chance for
teeth-brushing (50%), limiting sugary foods (19%) or limiting screen
time (17%), but those whose child care does implement these policies
view the policies favorably. For example, two thirds of parents (68%)
whose child care limits sugary foods or drinks believe this has a major
impact on their child's health.
Parents face challenges finding back-up care when a child gets sick
and cannot receive their usual care. Three in four working parents (75%)
say they have had to miss work, and one in five parents report negative
repercussions for themselves or their spouses such as docked pay (12%)
or getting in trouble with a supervisor (10%).
Findings suggest that, in
households with two working parents, mothers are more likely to stay
home with a sick child than fathers (45% vs. 13%) when one parent is
more likely to stay home. While parents most often cite job flexibility
as a driver for this decision, traditional views of gender roles are
also important, as the second-most common reason mothers stay home is
that it is "their responsibility or role" to stay home with the child