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Published in Print: May 8, 2002, as Report Claims Child-Care Workers Have Been Largely 'Undercounted'

Report Claims Child-Care Workers Have Been Largely 'Undercounted'

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President Bush says he wants to improve the skills of preschool teachers and child-care providers, but he may be underestimating how many need to be trained, suggests a new report.

There are 2.3 million people, including more than 800,000 paid relatives, caring for children other than their own from birth to 5 years old, the study found. That number is higher than estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau and the government's Bureau of Labor Statistics, which range from 700,000 to 1.7 million caregivers for children through age 12.

"U.S. workers who care for children ages 0-5 have been seriously undercounted in previous analyses, and as a result, the economic and social contribution of child-care workers and the projected future need for child-care workers (as well as the resources to train and pay them) have been seriously underestimated," says the report, which was released last week.

In addition to the 2.3 million paid caregivers, the report notes that there are another 2.4 million people caring for young children during the week who are not paid. Most—93 percent—are relatives, while the rest are primarily parent volunteers in center-based programs.

The bulk of paid teachers and providers—49 percent—are caring for 1- to 3-year-olds in a variety of arrangements in centers and homes, according to the study, which the authors say gives a far more accurate estimate of the child-care workforce than previous estimates. Twenty-two percent work in programs targeted at 3- to 5- year-olds, and a fraction of those workers are teachers in the federal Head Start program for children from low-income families. The remaining 29 percent work with infants and babies.

"We know we need better-trained workers, and we know there is turnover, but nobody had a number to work with," said Richard N. Brandon, the director of the Human Services Policy Center at the University of Washington in Seattle. He co-wrote the study with researchers at the Center for the Child Care Workforce, an advocacy and research organization based in Washington, D.C.

'Different Set of Skills'

The report also estimates that roughly two-thirds of those caring for preschool-age children lack any college-level training, and that efforts to improve the educational level of providers should also target the thousands who are caring for toddlers, particularly in family child-care centers and other home-based settings.

The toddler years "are a very challenging time," Mr. Brandon said. "There is a different set of skills that you need."

The report, "Estimating the Size and Components of the U.S. Child Care Workforce and Caregiving Population," focuses on the first year of a two-year, $249,000 project. The researchers received a grant from the Child Care Bureau—a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—to do their work.

To develop their estimates, the researchers reviewed data from the U.S. Department of Education's 1999 National Household Education Survey, in which almost 7,000 parents described their child-care arrangements. That approach allowed the researchers to count the unpaid and home-based workers who have been missed in past estimates.

Vol. 21, Issue 34, Page 9

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