Child care is expensive for most parents. Most family child care providers do not make a lot of money. The quality of child care overall is low.
Efforts to impact one of these three issues alone can make solving another issue more difficult.
If we increase the quality of child care by restricting the number of children a provider can care for, this can have the effect of increasing the cost of care. Relaxing regulatory standards may increase the income of family child care providers without increasing the quality of care.
A new study argues that relaxing regulatory requirements for group size while maintaining quality through increased training requirements for caregivers might lower the cost of providing child care without significantly affecting its quality.
That’s the conclusion of George Mason University study “Regulation and the Cost of Child Care” by Diana W. Thomas and Devon Gray, published in August
The study looked at child care center regulations across the country and found that most focused on structural changes to affect quality (group size, child-staff ratios, staff turnover). Such changes, however, were found to have only a small impact on overall child development outcomes.
When regulations were tightened, they tended to increase the quality of some existing child care centers, but the resulting higher prices also forced low-income families to seek out non relative, home-based care that was cheaper and typically of lower quality.
Regulations that had a more direct impact on positive child outcomes were those that captured the quality of teacher-child interactions. These interactions were more likely to happen in a home setting, but were more difficult to measure.
Although this study only looked at child care centers, I think they have relevance for family child care.
I am intrigued by the idea that caregiver training was a much more important factor affecting quality child care than group size, or child-staff ratios. And by the fact that quality of the teacher-child interaction, more likely to be found in a home environment, has more to do with quality than the number of children in a room.
The evidence about the impact of regulations on quality and price is not conclusive. Despite the importance of quality care for young children, this is an area that has not received the attention is deserves.
The fact that child care is both an economic necessity and a barrier to employment for many families has been attracting some attention in this political season.
The Center for American Progress recently proposed a new High-Quality Child Care Tax Credit to help low-income and middle class families afford child care. It would provide up to $14,000 to help families pay for child care and would be paid on a monthly basis to providers so parents don’t have to pay the cost upfront and wait until the following year to be reimbursed in a tax return.
Under this proposal states would also receive more money to help build the supply of high-quality child care, particularly in low-income neighborhoods. It would also support strengthening of child care regulations.
Tom Copeland – www.tomcopelandblog.com
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