Child Care: Introduction
Reliable child care support is essential for parents' employment. Quality early care and education also promote children's school readiness and have positive effects that last into adulthood (Yoshikawa et al. 2013) and are important for developing economically vibrant communities (Warner 2009). State policies on child care and early care and education differ on many aspects, including access and affordability of provisions, the number of hours provided by public programs, the training and supports available to/ required of providers and teachers, after school and school vacation care, subsidies for low-income parents, and guidance provided to parents choosing providers (see for example Barnett et al. 2013; Child Care Aware of America 2013 and 2014a; Minton and Durham 2013; QRIS Compendium 2015; Schmit and Reeves 2015; Schulman and Blank 2013).
The child care component of the work and family composite index focuses on just three indicators: the costs of full-time center care for an infant as a proportion of the median annual earnings for women in the state, a measure chosen to illustrate the potential barriers created by the costs of care for families considering having children generally and particularly for mothers of young children who want to return to work; the share of four-year-olds who are in publicly funded Pre-K, Headstart, and Special Education; and policies in place to ensure quality of Pre-K care (each is discussed in greater detail below). States vary widely across these indicators. Families in the Northeast and the South tend to have better access to quality, aff ordable care than families in the Mountain States and the West, but no state provides adequate child care supports to a majority of children under five.