Special Report

Children Attend Variety of Settings

By Kathryn M. Doherty — January 10, 2002 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Although Americans continue to debate whether very young children should receive care and education outside the home, the reality is that most already are being cared for by people other than their parents for at least part of the day.

About six in 10 children under age 5 in the United States, or 11.9 million youngsters, now spend time in nonparental care, in large part because their parents work.

According to the latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, 60 percent of the nation’s children age 5 or younger now live in two-parent homes where both parents work or in single-parent households where that parent is employed.

Of mothers with infants, the percentage that worked outside the home rose from 31 percent in 1976 to a high of 59 percent in 1998; it slipped to 55 percent in 2000. Among mothers with children at least a year old, nearly three-fourths were in the labor force in 2000.

Patterns of preschool and child care over the past decade reflect parents’ increasing employment. The National Household Education Survey, or NHES, tracks family use of child-care arrangements. It shows that most infants, toddlers, and preschool-age children receive care outside the home before they enter school. Among 4-year-olds, almost 70 percent participated in a center-based early-childhood program in 1999, the NHES found.

From the time of their first birthdays, a majority of children now receive care outside the home.

So where are children spending their days before they enter formal K-12 schooling?

Among children from birth to age 5 who have not yet entered school, 38 percent are cared for solely by their parents. But the figures differ dramatically by age, and trends over time show increasing reliance on care outside the home.

Thirty-one percent of 3-year-olds and just 18 percent of 4-year-olds are cared for exclusively by their parents, according to the 1999 survey. Just 23 percent of 3- to 5-yearolds are cared for only at home, compared with about a third of that age group a decade ago. The survey also found that children are receiving early care and education in a variety of settings.

Among children involved in center-based programs, the largest proportion of newborns to 5-year-olds (40 percent) attend a for-profit or nonprofit self-contained childcare center. Twenty-eight percent are cared for in a church or other religiously affiliated setting. Only 12 percent of young children attend programs located in public schools.

Twenty-two percent of 3- to 5-year-olds are cared for in at least two settings outside their own homes in any given week.

The type of center-based care families use varies by income. Low-income families appear to be much more dependent on home care and publicly financed settings--such as Head Start and school-based preschool programs--than better-off families. In part, that’s because government programs typically target children who are poor or otherwise deemed at risk.

Higher-income families, who are more inclined to use center-based care, are much more likely to send their children to arrangements in nonpublic schools, which on average, cost about $5,000 a year for newborns to 5-year-olds in 1999, putting them well out of the reach of poor families.

The NHES survey reveals nothing about the quality of child care. Nor do such surveys disclose whether the programs that children attend have a strong educational element. But the sheer numbers of young children now in nonparental care make it critical for educators and policymakers to pay more attention to those early-learning issues.

A version of this article appeared in the January 10, 2002 edition of Education Week


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: November 17, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Nearly a Million Kids Vaccinated in Week 1, White House Says
Experts say there are signs that it will be difficult to sustain the initial momentum.
4 min read
Leo Hahn, 11, gets the first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. Last week, U.S. health officials gave the final signoff to Pfizer's kid-size COVID-19 shot, a milestone that opened a major expansion of the nation's vaccination campaign to children as young as 5. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Education How Schools Are Getting Kids the COVID Shot, and Why Some Aren’t
Some district leaders say offering vaccine clinics, with the involvement of trusted school staff, is key to helping overcome hesitancy.
5 min read
A girl walks outside of a mobile vaccine unit after getting the first dose of her COVID-19 vaccine, outside P.S. 277, Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
Education Biden Administration Urges Schools to Provide COVID-19 Shots, Information for Kids
The Biden administration is encouraging local school districts to host vaccine clinics for kids and information on benefits of the shots.
2 min read
President Joe Biden, and first lady Jill Biden walk to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. Biden is spending the weekend at his home in Rehoboth Beach, Del. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)