With our country facing increasingly tough economic times, and a growing number of mothers entering the labor force to help support their families, child care is more important than ever to families and to the overall health and well-being of our country. Second only to the immediate family, child care is the setting in which early childhood development unfolds for nearly six million children under age 3. Quality child care offers the promise of a solid future by providing our youngest children nurturing, support for early learning and language development, preparation for school, and the opportunity for all infants and toddlers to reach their full potential. Child care is no longer viewed as simply a basic support for parents, but an exciting opportunity to promote the early education of young children. It is also a significant component of the economic infrastructure of states—providing long-term benefits for the government, businesses, and workers in terms of jobs, revenue, and future economic success.
Research indicates that the strongest effects of quality child care are found with at-risk children—children from families with few resources and under great stress. Unfortunately, at-risk infants and toddlers often receive poor quality child care that can diminish their potential and lead to poor cognitive, social, and emotional developmental outcomes. Research suggests that even small improvements in staff ratios and training and modest caregiver compensation initiatives can produce considerable improvements in the observed quality of care for young children. Yet our nation’s child care policies are not being influenced by this knowledge. Federal and state policymakers can act now to ensure that families are able to seize the potential of quality child care for their infants and toddlers.