Patterns of Child Care Use for Preschoolers in Los Angeles County

by Laura Chyu, Anne R. Pebley, Sandraluz Lara-Cinisomo


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Child care has an important impact on children’s development. High quality child care is especially important for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. In this report we examine non-parental child care for children in Los Angeles County in 2000-2001, based on the first wave of the Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey. In Los Angeles County, non-parental child care was used by only a minority (37 percent) of children ages 0 to 5 who were not yet in kindergarten or school. Among the target group for universal preschool (UPS) initiative (children 3 to 5) only 39 percent received any type of non-parental child care. Only about 14 percent of 0- to 5-year olds and 21 percent of 3- to 5-year olds attended child care centers or preschools at the time of the survey. If these figures continue to characterize preschools currently — as seems likely — than less than one quarter of the target age group for UPS is currently in center care. UPS is intended to be a voluntary program. However, if UPS succeeds in attracting and providing preschools for even half of the four-year-olds in Los Angeles County, it will be a very major change in the experiences of young children and families. Three key results from this study suggest that initiatives such as UPS and expansion of high-quality, developmentally oriented child care programs may be especially important for children from poorer families. First, children in poor families are less likely than others to attend child care centers, despite the availability of subsidized care. Second, children who receive exclusively parental care are more likely to have mothers with lower educational attainments than other children. Third, poor families who did use child care were likely to have had a difficult time paying for it. Our results also show that, with two exceptions, child care use patterns do not differ significantly by ethnicity or maternal nativity. One exception is that Latino children are less likely to receive non-parental child care than other children. Second, African American children were considerably more likely to use center-based care than whites. Contrary to conventional wisdom, African American children in Los Angeles were less likely to be cared for by relatives than to be in center care, compared with white children.

The research described in this report was conducted for First 5 LA by RAND Labor and Population, a unit of the RAND Corporation.

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