Child and Youth Well-Being Impacted by Child Care Investments

Jan 24, 2012

By Christine Johnson-Staub

Research and data have long shown that investing in programs that help families leads to improved outcomes for children in school and life. If states raise sufficient revenues and invest in health, nutrition, income support and education programs, children do better. New state child and youth well-being data  again back this up. The Child Well-Being Index (CWI), released by the Foundation for Child Development, shows differences in the status of children and families across states. Not surprisingly, the two indicators that seem to most drive the CWI rankings are state tax rates and public investments in children.

While the CWI does not take into account state child care policies, there is a direct relationship between access to child care subsidies and quality care that helps children thrive. Research shows that access to high quality child care and early education can have immediate and long-term impacts on child well-being.  Access to child care subsidies also increases parent employment and earnings, minimizing the potential for low-income children to sink further into poverty.

Despite its importance, analysis of data from the Administration for Children and Families shows that state investments in child care assistance are down. After three years of increases, federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds used for child care assistance fell sharply in 2010. TANF funds used for child care decreased to $2.8 billion from $3.5 billion in 2009, a 20 percent drop.

To help states strengthen their child care and early education policies and improve child well-being, CLASP recently revised its Tool Using Data to Inform a State Early Childhood Agenda. The tool provides data sources for states to evaluate the availability of quality child care and improve child care and early education policies for children birth to six. For example, advocates and policymakers can use the tool to better understand where children are in care and whether the state has policies in place to support access to subsidies.

As states strategize to improve child well-being, they should consider how to improve the CWI indicators as well as ways to increase their investment in high quality child care and early education. Reducing child poverty and helping families get and stay on track to economic stability are key to improving outcomes for children and should be important factors in state policy decision.

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