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Small Steps

An adequate supply of high-quality child care is viewed by many experts as crucial to the success of the welfare overhaul enacted four years ago, which aims to move aid recipients into the workforce.

But a recently released report, which examines child care in two states, Illinois and Maryland, says child-care slots in those states increased only slightly after 1996, the year that the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act passed.

In the following two years, both states saw only a 6 percent increase in regulated child care for every 1,000 children under age 13, according to the study, which was conducted by the National Center for Children in Poverty's Child Care Research Partnership at Columbia University in New York City.

The researchers also found that, during that time, communities with higher concentrations of low-income people in both states saw little growth in the child-care supply. More growth occurred in areas with lower concentrations of poor families.

Center-based care had increased in both states by 1998, but most of that growth took place in more affluent neighborhoods. The number of family child-care providers, who care for youngsters in the providers' own homes, actually declined slightly.

For preschool-age children, the news was better, especially in Maryland. In that state, the number of Head Start programs grew by 15 percent, and the number of prekindergarten programs increased by 34.6 percent. In Illinois, the number of Head Start programs did not change, but the number of other prekindergarten programs grew by 9.2 percent.

The researchers, who have received funding for their work from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, stress that policymakers should form a better understanding of the "dynamics of supply and demand" in targeted communities.

"Given evidence that quality child care helps prepare children for school success and is especially important for low- income children, policymakers must make special efforts to ensure that all parents, including those in low-income communities, have quality options in regulated care, as well as supports for quality in unregulated settings," the report says.

Copies of "Scant Increases After Welfare Reform: Regulated Child Care Supply in Illinois and Maryland, 1996-1998" are available for $8 from the National Center for Children in Poverty by calling (212) 304-7100.

—Linda Jacobson

Vol. 19, Issue 43, Page 15

Published in Print: August 2, 2000, as Children & Families

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