Parent Requests for Child Care, by Age

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Learn More About Early Care and Education

Measures of Early Care and Education on

Child care refers to the supervision and care of a minor child, usually when the child is apart from a parent or guardian. The California Child Care Resource & Referral Network tracks licensed facilities in the state that provide care for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and/or school-age children during all or part of the day.

There are two types of facilities: child care centers and family child care homes. Child care centers offer care for children in a group setting. Family child care homes offer care in the home of the provider, often a parent.

Full-day child care facilities are open all day and all year to cover the hours needed by working parents. Part-day facilities, often called nursery schools or preschools for children 3-5 years old, generally offer a program for 3-5 hours a day only during the school year. Infant child care facilities are licensed to care for infants and toddlers under age 2. School-age facilities are licensed to serve children ages 6 and older. Most child care facilities are licensed by the California Department of Social Services (DSS).

Data are available only for licensed facilities. Many families use license-exempt care, such as child care provided by relatives and friends. Availability of child care for potential demand is the estimated percentage of children under age 13 with parents in the labor force to whom licensed child care is available.

Early Care and Education
Family Income and Poverty
Access to Services for Children with Special Health Care Needs (State-Level Data)
Family Structure
Housing Affordability
Impact of Special Health Care Needs on Children & Families (State-Level Data)
Reading Proficiency
Why This Topic Is Important

In California, as in the nation, more than half of children under age 6 live in homes where both parents (or a single head of household) are employed (1). Many of these children must be cared for in child care centers, family child care homes, and early education centers.

High-quality child care centers and homes deliver consistent, developmentally sound, and emotionally supportive care and education (2). Research indicates that high-quality early care and education can have long-lasting positive effects. Specifically, high-quality child care before age 5 is related to higher levels of school readiness, academic achievement, educational attainment, and behavioral/emotional functioning during elementary, middle, and high school (2, 3, 4).

However, finding affordable, high-quality child care is a major challenge for many families. In 2012, licensed child care was available for an estimated 25% of potential demand in California (i.e., children ages 0-12 with working parents) (5). And the cost is high. For example, infant child care costs in California made up an estimated 15% of the median annual income for married couples and 44% for single mothers in 2012 (1). In 2012, California was ranked the 6th least affordable state for infant care in the nation (1).

For more information about early care and education, see’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  National Association of Child Care Resources & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA). (2013). Parents and the high cost of child care: 2013 report. Retrieved from:

2.  MacGillvary, J., & Lucia, L. (2011). Economic impacts of early care and education in California. University of California, Berkeley: Center for Labor Research and Education. Retrieved from:

3.  Vandell, D. L., et al. (2010). Do effects of early childcare extend to age 15 years? Results from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. Child Development, 81(3), 737-56. Retrieved from:

4.  Rand Corporation, Labor and Population. (2007). The promise of preschool for narrowing readiness and achievement gaps among California children. Research Brief. Retrieved from:

5.  California Child Care Resource and Referral Network. (2013). The 2013 California child care portfolio. Retrieved from:
How Children Are Faring
Most young children in California have parents who report reading to them every day, 62% in 2011-12. However, an estimated 39% of California children age 3-5 were not enrolled in preschool or kindergarten in 2012. While similar to previous years, the percentage of children not enrolled tend to decline as children approach school-age. For example, an estimated 64% 3 year-olds were not enrolled in preschool or kindergarten in 2012, but the same was true for only 11% of 5-year-olds. Percentages also vary by racial/ethnic group.

In 2012, licensed child care was available for an estimated 25% of children ages 0-12 with working parents in California. However, many child care providers do not fill all of their slots due to shortages of qualified staff or other issues, and providers’ schedules do not always meet the needs of families. For example, in 2012, 14% of all parent requests for licensed child care in California were for evening, weekend or overnight care, but only 2% of licensed child care centers offered this type of care. While family child care homes are more likely to provide care during evenings, weekends, or overnight, they represent only about a third of the licensed child care slots in the state.

In 2012, the average annual cost of infant care was more than $11,000 in licensed child care centers and nearly $7,500 in family child care homes; for preschool-age children, the annual cost was almost $8,000 in licensed child care centers and more than $7,000 in family child care homes.
Policy Implications
As a regulated field that includes a substantial public subsidy program, early care and education is greatly affected by public policy. Policymakers can help ensure that high-quality child care is accessible and affordable to families that need it, and that early childhood programs are structured to help children start kindergarten ready to learn. Child care is particularly inaccessible to families with infants and to families who struggle to pay for care but do not receive public subsidies (1, 2).

According to research and subject experts, policies that could improve early education and child care include:

  • Increasing state funding for early care and education, tying funding to program quality and prioritizing care for infants/toddlers and children with the greatest needs (1)
  • Requiring early education programs that receive public funding to participate in a continuous improvement process that includes benchmarked quality ratings, action plans for improvement, accountability measures, financial incentives, program support, and parent education efforts (1, 5)
  • Creating adequate capacity for high-quality care and comprehensive learning programs for infants and toddlers, including full-day preschool for all low-income children ages 3-4, and integrating guidelines for easing the transitions from early care, to preschool, to the K-12 environment (1, 2, 4)
  • Improving the state’s professional development infrastructure to prepare and support an effective early childhood education workforce that includes accessible, coordinated, standardized, high-quality training for educators and caregivers focused on applying knowledge to practice (1, 2, 3)
  • Creating an online database for easy public access to inspection and complaint reports for state-licensed child care, preschools, and after-school programs (6)
  • Making the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit fully refundable at the state level, targeting low and moderate income earners, regardless of tax liability; and encouraging other federal solutions to address the high cost of child care (7)
For more policy ideas and research about early care and education and transitional kindergarten, visit Zero to Three, Early Edge California, California Early Learning Advisory Council, and the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network. Also see Policy Implications under Family Income and Poverty on 

Sources for this narrative:

1.  California Legislative Analysts’ Office. (2011). The 2011-12 budget: Child care and development. Retrieved from:

2.  California Child Care Resource & Referral Network. (2013). 2013 California child care portfolio. Retrieved from:

3.  Governor’s State Advisory Council on Early Learning and Care. (2013). California comprehensive early learning plan. Retrieved from:

4.  Tout, K., et al. (2013). The research base for a birth through age eight state policy framework. Child Trends. Retrieved from:

5.  Office of Child Care. (2012). QRIS in Statutes and Regulations. National Center on Child Care Quality Improvement. Retrieved from:

6.  The Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2013). The first eight years: Giving kids a foundation for lifetime success. Retrieved from:

7.  Demma, R. (2010). Building ready states: A governor’s guide to supporting a comprehensive, high quality early childhood state system. National Governor’s Association Center for Best Practices. Retrieved from:;jsessionid=F4A78843D33C2F8B1DEA39EC1830B81A

8.  Child Care Aware. (Updated 2014). Child Care Licensing Inspection Reports. Retrieved from:

9.  National Women’s Law Center. (2011). Making care less taxing: Improving state child and dependent care tax provisions. Retrieved from:

Websites with Related Information
Key Reports
County/Regional Reports