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Child Care

Further Readings

The supervision and nurturing of a child, including casual and informal services provided by a parent and more formal services provided by an organized child care center.

Because there are many different views about how a child should be reared or nurtured, the topic of child care often involves controversial social and political issues. For instance, it may raise complex questions about a child's religious upbringing or whether a child should be disciplined with CORPORAL PUNISHMENT. Some people believe that providing child care outside the home undermines so-called traditional family structures in which the mother is considered the primary caretaker. Others are concerned primarily with broadening community responsibility for children and removing barriers for women who wish to enter and participate fully in the labor force. In addition, the term child care encompasses a wide range of services. It can include home-based care by a child's mother or father, care by a grandparent or other relative, care by a nanny, or care by an organized licensed facility or family center. It can also involve early childhood education such as that offered by nursery schools, Montessori schools, and kindergarten programs.

According to a 1997 study by the Urban Institute, an estimated 76 percent of preschool children with mothers who are employed are cared for by someone other than their parents. According to these statistics, center-based day-care centers cared for 32 percent of children throughout the United States. By comparison, 23 percent of the children were cared for by relatives, while 16 percent were cared for by a childcare provider in the provider's home. Six percent of the children were cared for by a nanny or a babysitter in the child's home.

Child care has always existed in the United States. Organized childcare centers in the early 1800s took the form of infant day schools in parts of Boston and New York. During the industrial revolution, and as a result of increased immigration to the United States, day nurseries were created in the late nineteenth century to care primarily for poor urban children. In New York City, in approximately 1910, 85 such nurseries cared for more than 5000 children each day. Day nurseries were privately run and charitable in nature and were intended to provide custodial supervision, hygiene instruction, and nutrition services. Later, many middle-class parents opted to enroll their children in kindergartens, educational programs adopted in parts of the United States in the mid-nineteenth century.

During WORLD WAR II, millions of women entered the workforce in war production areas. The need for an organized childcare program became acute. Congress responded by including provisions in the Community Facilities Act of 1941, then more commonly known as the LANHAM ACT, which created Lanham Act centers for child care. (As of the early 2000s, the term Lanham Act is generally used to refer to the Trademark Act of 1946, 15 U.S.C.A. § 1051 et. seq.) The establishment of the Lanham Act centers marked the first time the federal government became directly involved in providing childcare services to children who were not poor: the centers were open to all children whose parents worked in war production areas. The federal government provided 50 percent of the funds needed to operate the Lanham Act centers; states, localities, and parents provided the remaining 50 percent in matching funds. In 1943, the cost to parents for child care in a Lanham Act center was uniformly set at 50 cents a day.

The federally sponsored Lanham Act centers closed in 1946, soon after World War II ended, although California continued them at a state level. After that, direct federal involvement in a national childcare program virtually ceased. Although the U.S. Congress passed the Comprehensive Child Development Act of 1972, which would have in part established a national child-care program, President RICHARD M. NIXON vetoed the bill. Nixon stated that the act would "commit the vast moral authority of the national government to the side of communal approaches to child-rearing over and against the family-centered approach." Nixon's statement reflected the continuing debate about the appropriateness of providing child care outside a traditional family structure.

Although in the early 2000s the federal government does not have a national child care program, it does provide numerous social programs that include funding for childcare services. In 2000, the U.S. states spent an estimated $8 billion on child care. Of this number, approximately $6 billion came from the federal government in the form of subsidies provided by a number of programs.

The Head Start program provides developmental education programs primarily to poor children under the age of four. WELFARE programs such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) provide funds for states to implement childcare services for parents—usually mothers—who receive welfare grants. The Family Support Act of 1988 (FSA), Pub. L. 100–485, 102 Stat. 2343, created the federal Jobs Opportunity and Basic Skills (JOBS) program, in which qualifying parents who receive AFDC are required to enter education or training programs to enhance their chances of finding employment. The federal government funds the JOBS program by providing money to the states. The states in turn are allowed to choose the method of providing childcare services to welfare recipients. They may provide child care directly, reimburse parents for childcare expenses, or make direct payments to childcare providers. In 1993, the federal government spent approximately $480 million on FSA childcare subsidies.

Kindergartens grew in popularity during the late nineteenth century, especially in New York City and Boston.

The federal government also provides funds to states through the Social Services Block Grant, under title XX of the SOCIAL SECURITY ACT, 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1397a et seq., as well as funds for the operation of the At-Risk Child Care Program. The At-Risk Program divides more than $350 million among state governments for childcare subsidies to families who are at risk of welfare dependency; the states must match the grants before they can use the money. Finally, the federal government allows families to deduct childcare expenses from their taxes in the form of the federal dependent care tax credit.

In response to increasing demands, Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), Pub. L. 103–3, 107 Stat. 6. Although the FMLA does not directly provide for childcare services, it does mandate in part that employers with more than 50 employees must allow those employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth or ADOPTION of a child or in order to take care of a child with a serious health condition. Many states also have parental leave legislation, which allows a parent to take unpaid time off for the birth or adoption of a child. The length of time allowed for unpaid leave varies from state to state and may be from six weeks to six months.

The regulation of childcare services occurs primarily on the state level, with the federal government requiring states to implement minimal regulations for private childcare centers. When Peggy McMartin Buckey and Raymond Buckey were accused of sexually abusing children in a day care center in California in the early 1980s, their case (McMartin v. Children's Institute Intern., 212 Cal. App. 3d 1393, 261 Cal. Rptr. 437 [Cal. App. 1989]) and others like it received

national media attention. Out of a stated concern for the notice given to such allegations, the federal government passed legislation in 1985 that appropriated funds to the states to provide training for childcare workers and to support licensing and enforcement officials. The federal government also required states to implement procedures that would require childcare centers to screen workers for any criminal history. In addition, the Child Care and Development Block Grant of 1990 (CCDBG), which provided funds to state government agencies to subsidize childcare services for low-income working parents, required states to develop minimum health and safety requirements for state-licensed child-care centers. Amendments to the CCDBG in 1995 removed such requirements but did obligate states to ensure that parents or guardians may visit or have access to a child while the child is in a child care center.

The regulation of child care facilities and caregivers on the state level varies considerably. A state may require a child care center to obtain a license in order to operate, or it may mandate certain minimum standards for all child care facilities. As of the early 2000s, every state requires that space for a child care facility be "adequate" or of a certain specified size. Most states also regulate how many child care workers must be on duty for a specified number of children, depending on the age of the children: for instance, New York requires one caregiver on duty for every two children under the age of two. Most states also regulate the qualifications and training requirements for child care workers and require child care centers to determine whether a job applicant or worker has a criminal record or has been listed in the state's CHILD ABUSE registry. Some states, such as Arkansas and South Carolina, in some circumstances allow corporal punishment of children in their licensed day care centers.

Most states exempt certain child care centers from regulations or licensing requirements. Religious or church-based day care centers, as well as small home-based day care programs, are often exempt from regulations or licensing requirements other than basic health and safety regulations. In addition, private day care groups or associations may set goals for quality child care and may provide certification or accreditation programs for member centers.


Family Law; Parent and Child; Welfare.

Additional topics

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