The Advancing Nanny State: Why the Government Should Stay Out of Child Care

October 23, 1997 • Policy Analysis No. 285

On October 23, 1997, the Clinton administration will host the White House Conference on Child Care. The administration is expected to announce several initiatives to expand federal control over day care, ranging from increased federal subsidies to public education campaigns. Those federal initiatives are misguided, largely because they seriously misread the true state of child care in the United States.

Advocates of increased government involvement in child care generally argue that (1) there is a shortage of child care facilities, (2) the facilities that do exist are not affordable, and (3) unregulated day care is harmful to children. But the push for federal child care standards and more federal subsidies to make sure that all children have a “strong and healthy start in life” is unnecessary and misguided. There is no child care crisis.

Ninety‐​six percent of parents are satisfied with their child care arrangements; child care fees have not changed in real terms since the late 1970s; and the number of child care providers has kept pace with the swelling demand for child care. Likewise, the National Day Care Home Study conducted for the Department of Health and Human Services found no indication that unregulated family day care was either harmful or dangerous to children. In fact, family day care caters successfully to the diverse needs of the children in care. The child care market is healthy and heterogeneous, reflecting the diversity of its buyers.

Given the facts–that parents are satisfied with their children’s care and that high‐​quality care is both available and affordable even for low‐​income parents–Congress should resist any attempt to increase funding for child care and to impose federal standards on providers and parents.

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