Child care costs continue to increase

According to a report released August 24 by the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA), the cost of child care continues to increase  while families struggle to afford quality care. Parents and the High Cost of Child Care: 2011 Update provides results from a survey of Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) State Networks and local agencies, which asked for the average fees charged by child care programs in 2010.

The report, which provides the average cost of child care for infants, four-year-olds, and school-age children in centers and family child care homes nationwide, reveals that in 36 states, the average annual cost for center-based care for an infant was higher than a year’s tuition and related fees at a four-year public college. In every state, center-based child care costs for two children (an infant and a four-year-old) exceeded annual average rent payments.

“Child care is essential to working families and working families are key to economic growth,” said Linda K. Smith, NACCRRA’s Executive Director. “But, child care today is simply unaffordable for most families.”

According to the report, in 2010, in Virginia the average annual cost of full-time care for an infant in a center is $8,800, for a four-year-old the cost is $6,650, and for a school-age child it is $5,600. Fairfax County, which has higher costs than the state average, makes the cost of day-care for school-age children even more burdensome by dismissing  students in elementary schools school two hours early every Monday. Arlington County dismisses 12 of its elementary schools two hours early on Wednesdays, another burden on many parents.

The report states that the average annual cost of full-time care for an infant in a center ranged from $4,650 in Mississippi to $18,200 a year in the District of Columbia. Parents of a four-year-old child paid average fees of $3,900 in Mississippi to $14,050 a year in the District of Columbia. In New York, parents of school-age children paid up to $10,400 a year for part-time care in a center. The report also found that in 2010, the average annual cost of full-time care in a family child care home was as much as $12,100 for an infant and $11,300 for a four-year-old in Massachusetts.

“During the critical years of birth through age 5, 90 percent of a child’s brain is developed and essential learning patterns are established which affect school-readiness,” said Smith. “Children need to be safe in child care and they also need to be in a setting that promotes their healthy development or our early childhood policies undermine our school readiness goals. It is time for policymakers to recognize that connection. Children spend an average of 35 hours a week in child care which means child care is a key early learning program.”

In the United States, more than 11 million children under age five are in child care each week. Although child care costs are high, NACCRRA says that most states have inadequate requirements for the quality of care. Currently, the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which provides funds to states to help make child care more affordable for families, does not require that funds be used to pay for licensed care. Nationally, more than 20 percent of children who receive CCDBG assistance are in unlicensed settings. In nine states, 35 percent or more of the children who receive this assistance are in unlicensed settings.

Unlicensed settings do not have to meet state health and safety standards, providers are not required to be trained and the settings are not inspected. “No one knows about the quality of care offered in unlicensed settings, which means children are really left to chance,” said Smith. “There should be more accountability for quality when government funds are used to pay for child care,” Smith said.

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