Organized childcare outside of the home assists parents in providing the basic needs of a child. Though often controversial in much of the twentieth century, organized childcare has a long history in the United States. Infant daycare facilities have operated in parts of Boston and New York City since the early 1800s. The number of day nurseries increased by the late nineteenth century as industries grew and increasing numbers of immigrants, both men and women, sought jobs. These facilities were primarily for children of the working poor and run by private charities. For middle-class families, kindergartens became available in the mid-nineteenth century.
Publicly funded childcare programs did not come into existence until World War II (1939–45). Congress passed the Community Facilities Act in 1941 to create childcare centers for war industry workers. Many women worked in the war industries while their husbands were away in the military. This national childcare program ended after the war, though California kept some centers open through state support.
In place of a national childcare system, other programs were created throughout the postwar years to assist parents and fulfill the rights of children. These programs included Head Start for poor children under four years of age; Aid to Families with Dependent Children, which helped pay for daycare; the At-Risk Child Care Program, which gave assistance to families in need; income tax deductions for childcare expenses; and the 1993 Family Leave Act, which required large companies to grant unpaid leave to employees who needed time off to care for children or family members.
In addition to programs for younger children, all school-aged youngsters are provided free education at public schools. School aged children with disabilities are also provided access to education through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975. The Medicaid program was created to assist the healthcare needs of the poor and their children.
Organized childcare continued as privately-owned businesses in the United States into the twenty-first century. To ensure the quality and safety of private childcare centers, states regulate these services. State agencies require childcare centers to screen workers for criminal records; facilities and workers who commit severe violations can be criminally charged.