Latest Kids Count Shows Child Care Elusive for the Poor
Increasing child-care subsidies, rewarding employers that provide child-care assistance, and expanding tax credits to stay-at-home parents are just a few ways to make child care more affordable for low-income families, according to this year's Kids Count Data Book.
An annual project measuring the well-being of children at the state and national levels, Kids Count follows trends on such issues as the percent of low-birth-weight babies, the rate of violent teenage deaths, and the proportion of adolescents who are high school dropouts.
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But this year's report, which has been published by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation since 1990, focuses on the 29 million young children who need care while their parents are at work and pays special attention to the 10 million such children from low-income families.
"While some would debate whether the nation is experiencing a child-care 'crisis,' for many low-income working families, child care is a perpetual emergency," the authors write. "Without thoughtful action at the national, state, and community levels, the problem is destined to get worse."
Child-care costs are disproportionately high for poor parents, the report says. And even if they can find affordable care, it's often unavailable during the evening and weekend hours that low-income mothers frequently work. In addition, numerous studies have raised concerns about the quality of both center-based care and family child-care homes.
Better Training Needed
The Kids Count authors cite a 1995 study from the U.S. General Accounting Office to underscore one of their points: Fifty-nine percent of low-income children attended centers that failed to provide "the full range of child-development, health, and parent services needed to support their school readiness."
To improve the quality of child-care programs, the new report recommends comprehensive training for child-care providers and the enforcement of adequate licensing standards by states and localities.
The demand for high-quality, affordable child care is likely to increase, the report notes. It is estimated that in just two years, 70 percent of mothers with preschool-age children, including many moving off welfare, will be working and in need of child care.
As in all Kids Count books, this year's report offers information on 10 indicators of child well-being over a 10-year period--from 1985 to 1995. The book's national profile shows a continuing decline in the infant-mortality rate and the child-death rate. Since 1985, the infant-mortality rate has fallen from 10.6 to 7.6 deaths per 1,000 live births, and the child-death rate has decreased from 34 to 28 deaths per 100,000 children, ages 1 to 14.
Compared with data in last year's report, the violent-crime arrest rate for juveniles has fallen slightly. In 1994, there were 517 arrests per 100,000 youths, ages 10-17; by 1995, the number had dropped to 507. And the rate of teenagers dying by accident, homicide, or suicide dropped from 69 to 65 per 100,000 teenagers, ages 15 to 19.
But the authors of the report warn that small differences are often due to "random fluctuations."