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Definition: day care from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

(1945) 1 : supervision of and care for children or disabled adults that is provided during the day by a person or organization 2 : a program, facility, or organization offering day care

Summary Article: Daycare
From Encyclopedia of Motherhood

Daycare is the provision of care for a child through either a daycare center (nursery) or family-run, home daycare. Daycare differs from individual childcare by babysitters or nannies in that providers care for several children at one time. Daycare is typically used by working parents to care for children below the age of 5; however, many daycare facilities also offer before- and after-school care.

Historic Background

Daycare emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Europe and the United States as a reflection of a variety of social and economic circumstances, including the industrial revolution and immigration of families. In the United States, nurseries and kindergartens were established to serve disadvantaged women, particularly widows and working women. During World War II, the first and only federal legislation that provided broad funding and support for childcare in the United States was the Lanham Act of 1941, which provided federal grant funding to states in order to create childcare facilities for women workers as they replaced men during the war. Federal funding was discontinued just weeks after the war.

The Need for Daycare

Whether by choice or economic necessity, the increased number of mothers in the labor force highlights the importance of childcare. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the participation of women with children under age 6 in the civilian U.S. labor force increased from 39 percent in 1975 to 63 percent in 2006. Similarly, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that labor force participation rates of mothers with children under 6 years of age across selected countries in 2002 include Australia, 45 percent; Denmark, 74 percent; France, 58 percent; Germany, 52 percent; Italy, 46 percent; Spain, 43 percent; and the United Kingdom, 55 percent.

The National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) indicates that nearly 75 percent of infants and toddlers of working mothers are cared for by someone outside of their immediate family. The use of daycare typically depends on the work status of the mother, but household income and education influence the age at which families place their children in care. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, children are more likely to be placed in daycare at an earlier age when the family is more dependent on the mother's income. In contrast, a low-income family's children who have not entered daycare by their first birthday are more likely to live in poverty and have mothers with less education.

Martha Davis and Roslyn Powell indicate the need for childcare has also been recognized globally through the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 1989. Article 18 of the CRC asserts that states have a duty to assist working parents in meeting the needs of childcare services. The CRC has been ratified by 191 countries—Somalia and the United States are the only UN members that have not ratified the CRC.

Daycare Centers and Home Daycare

Daycare center providers include privately owned organizations, although some universities and churches also sponsor daycare programs. Smaller, private daycare centers tend to operate out of a single location; however, in recent years, publicly traded corporate daycare centers have emerged. For example, ABC Learning is listed on the stock exchange and has centers in Asia, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Daycare centers are more likely to be licensed, subject to state inspections and regulation, employ trained staff, and provide a developmental curriculum. Licensed daycare centers separate children by age, meet specific caregiver and child ratios, and often provide age-appropriate cognitive and social development activities. However, the disadvantages of daycare centers include higher costs, staff turnover, and less individual attention. Home daycare providers offer care for children in their own home. The advantages of home daycare include lower costs and greater individual attention. Although most states in the United States require regulation among providers who care for more than four children, home daycare providers are less likely to be licensed and regulated.

Regulation of Daycare

In the United States, daycare centers and homes are licensed by the states, and standards vary accordingly. The National Association for the Education of Young Children provides recommendations on the organization and structure of daycare centers. Features of quality care include small adult-to-child ratios, group size, caregiver's education level, safe physical environment, and age-appropriate learning activities. It is important for parents to understand that not all providers are licensed. Within the United States, individuals can learn about specific providers and regulations by contacting their state. Many states use Health and Human Services departments to license and regulate daycare providers.

Financing Daycare

A variety of methods are used to finance daycare, ranging from direct government sponsorship and provision of services to tax credits for parents who pay out-of-pocket expenses for daycare. The OECD reports that government support for formal daycare is highest among Nordic countries, where spending ranges from 1.5 to 2.7 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and lowest in Australia, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Slovak Republic, Switzerland, and Turkey. Nevertheless, most countries provide some form of subsidy for low-income families and many use a fee based on income approach.

In Finland, all children under 7 years of age qualify for daycare, which is funded by the local authority regardless of parental income. In France, écoles maternelles (nursery schools) are funded by the National Ministry of Education. Parents pay no fee, and children between the ages of 2 and 6 are eligible. There are also crèches collectives (home daycare), in which fees are based on income. Payroll taxes are used to finance both systems.

In the United States, low-income families often qualify for subsidies for childcare, while middle-and upper-income families receive tax credits. Federal support for daycare is provided to the states through Child Care and Development Block Grants to provide assistance to low-income families. Head Start is also a well-known program for low-income children. Britain adopted a similar approach through the National Childcare Strategy, which established Sure Start (modeled after Head Start in the United States) to assist low-income children. Britain also offers tax credits for childcare.

Benefits of Daycare

Both children and mothers of young children can benefit from affordable, quality daycare. Many consider daycare to be an investment in the future of our children and a means to promote equality for disadvantaged children. Several studies have demonstrated positive effects of daycare on cognitive development, while the studies on behavioral performance have been mixed. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) study found that children who attended daycare centers had better cognitive development and language skills, but were more likely to exhibit behavioral problems.

The National Institutes of Health also found that children who attended higher-quality childcare received higher scores on vocabulary tests in the fifth grade than children who attended lower-quality care. Studies of Head Start programs have also demonstrated positive effects of program participation on academic performance in early grade school; however, the effects diminish for minorities by age 10.

Day care also benefits mothers with young children by increasing labor force participation rates of women, promoting gender equality in the workplace, and raising household incomes. A 2004 OECD study found that government spending on public childcare increases full-time participation of women. Among those countries with less governmental support for daycare, such as the United States, high labor force participation rates of women with young children is partially explained by higher education levels and lower unemployment.

See Also:

Childcare, Employment and Motherhood, Preschool Children, Work and Mothering

  • Dau-Schmidt, Kenneth; Brun, Carmen “Protecting Families in a Global Economy.” Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies v.13/1, Winter 2006.
  • Davis, Martha; Powell, Roslyn “The International Convention on the Rights of the Child: A Catalyst for Innovative Childcare Policies.” Human Rights Quarterly v.25, 2003.
  • National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA). “Quality Infant and Toddler Care Promotes Greater Outcomes for Children and Helps Parents Go to Work.” (accessed May 2009).
  • Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Labor Force Participation of Women: Empirical Evidence on the Role of Policy and Other Determinants in OECD Countries. Paris: OECD, 2004.
  • U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Women in the Labor Force, Report 1011 (December 2008).
  • U. S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. (accessed May 2009).
  • Williams, Fiona; Roseneil, Sasha “Public Values of Parenting and Partnering: Voluntary Organizations and Welfare Politics in New Labour's Britain.” Social Politics v.11/2, 2004.
  • Wyatt-Nichol, Heather
    University of Baltimore
    Copyright © 2010 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

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