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Research Questions

  1. What is the percentage of children who are cared for by someone other than their parents before they reach kindergarten age?
  2. What kind of care is provided and how do care use patterns vary by child age?
  3. How much of this care is subsidized by federal or state programs?

Using two sources of representative data: the 2005 National Household Education Survey and the 2007 RAND California Preschool Study, this paper describes child care and early learning arrangements for the approximately 2.8 million California children ages 0 to 5 who are younger than the age at which they would enter kindergarten. The focus is on nonparental care arrangements, whether they occur in a home-based or center-based setting. The paper also uses administrative data as of 2008 to calculate participation in the various publicly subsidized programs available to qualifying children and their families.

Key Findings

A Majority of California Children Under Age Five Are in Child Care or Early Learning Programs on a Regular Basis

  • Just under half of infants and toddlers and 75 to 80 percent of preschool-age children are cared for by someone other than their parents on a regular basis before they enter kindergarten.
  • The modal care for infants and toddlers is care by a relative in a home-based setting, but most preschoolers are cared for in a center-based setting, at least part-time.

Subsidized Programs Do Not Reach All Eligible Children, but Most Subsidized Care Is Delivered in Licensed Settings

  • California has an array of federal- and state-funded programs that subsidized the costs of care for about 355,000 children as of 2008, primarily those in families with low income. In that year, these programs served about 5 percent of the state's infants and toddlers, 18 percent of three-year-olds, and 34 percent of four-year-olds.
  • Given funding levels as of 2008-2009, the existing subsidized programs were not able to serve the approximately 53 percent of children under age 5 who would have qualified on the basis of family income. The estimated share of eligible children served ranges from 8 percent of infants and toddlers to 34 percent of three-year-olds and 65 percent of four-year-olds.
  • Most California children in subsidized care are in licensed settings. Among children under age 5, infants and toddlers are more likely to be in license-exempt settings compared with three- and four-year-olds.

The research described in this report was performed under the auspices of RAND Labor and Population

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