Child care development is an issue of growing prominence in U.S. domestic policies. There’s widespread fear that the U.S. federal early childhood education system, which relies on a large number of non-profit agencies for the education of pre-school kids, is woefully inadequate and frequently falls far short in comparison to comparable systems in other peer nations. The recent push for vouchers, or family-based funding, has added to this concern. At the same time, efforts to extend high-quality preschool programs are being blocked by state resistance. In fact, the push for vouchers in the states has stalled so badly that some leading Republicans are threatening to shut down the government if they don’t get their way. All this adds to a very serious confusion over what our national goals and strategies should be in child care.
One group that is rising to the challenge of child development policy in the United States is the American Action Forum, founded by two prominent Washington DC politicians, it is a think tank that brings together scholars from across the political spectrum and industry leaders. Among its many projects is an annual report that highlights the problems, successes, and challenges facing American child care systems, as well as issues that are likely to arise in the near future.
Child Care Development
In its report, the AAF reiterates its call for both higher spending and more rigorous research into the current system. “Efforts to strengthen the nation’s child welfare system need not add more stress to parents and families while simultaneously placing tremendous monetary strain on state budgets,” the report states. “The time has come for leaders in both parties to focus on the investments needed to ensure that our nation’s youth are well-off and well-educated.”
The report identifies a number of impediments to the current system. First, it notes that while more states are putting in place programs to support children in low-income families, only thirty percent of these families are actually using these programs. In addition, the report finds that middle-income families are more likely to be experiencing delays in the delivery of their children than poor families. This is due in part to the fact that some states have cut back on early child care services. In addition, it adds that there has been a significant increase in government spending on vouchers that families can use to purchase quality early child care services.
For families in which both parents work, the rate of parent absence has increased, especially for single parents. The report recommends that both parents participate in public preschool and should obtain an adequate number of hours of medical leave. It calls for legislation that would allow working parents to take paid leave when necessary to care for their children, and it calls for legislation that would expand access to affordable child care.
As regards preschool education, the report recommends that preschools provide a rich educational experience for all children regardless of their backgrounds. The recommended outcomes are better cognitive, linguistic, social, and emotional development, higher educational performance, and a healthier population. The current system does not allow all children to thrive, and the report recommends that state governments work to remedy this by adding quality child care in the public education system. It also suggests that allocating financial resources for community-based child care organizations would help improve the quality of care received by disadvantaged families.
One aspect of the report addresses is that of mothers leaving home to work. The report notes that most of these mothers return to work later in life and that the earnings of those who stay at home are inconsistent. Specifically, the problem is that these disadvantaged mothers do not have access to a large portion of the federal money made available for child care by employers. In addition, the mothers do not have access to the same benefits and assistance available to mothers who work outside the home. On top of this, a large majority of these mothers frequently move between locations, resulting in them not having a stable place to live.
One last area the report looks at is that of single-parent families. This is one of the most troubling aspects of the current child care situation. Particularly, it is noted that most of these parents do not have a college degree, and thus, these families are severely limited in their earning potential. However, there are promising proposals that address some of these problems. These proposals include providing high-quality vocational and technical schools, as well as more moms going back to school or the college of their choice.