Photo: Associated Early Care and Education


Any discussion of a policy agenda for young children should start with data, and the U.S. Census Bureau recently released an important compilation in its “Who’s Minding the Kids?” report.

According to the report, almost two-thirds (63%) of all children under age 5 had a regular care arrangement in the spring of 2005, and for almost two-thirds (65%) of young children with regular care arrangements, the caretaker was a relative.  Almost one-quarter (23%) of children under age 5 were regularly cared for by a grandparent. Another 23% of all children under 5 regularly attended preschool, Head Start or a child care center. Another 10% were cared for in a non-relative’s home (6%, the Census Bureau says, in family child care and 4% in an “other care arrangement”).

“‘Who’s Minding the Kids’ always provides a sobering reminder that the type of child care arrangements and programs we spend the most time talking about in policy circles — preschool, Head Start, center-based childcare — and those that dominate media attention– preschool, nannies — actually account for a relatively small percentage of our nation’s children in child care,” Sara Mead of Bellwether Education Partners writes in her Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook blog. “The majority of children under 5 in regular child care arrangements are being cared for by relatives–most frequently their grandparents. If we really want to move the ball on childcare quality and school readiness, we need to think much better and more creatively about how to support these children and the adults who care for them.”

Here in Massachusetts, 92% of children under age 7 are cared for by someone other than a relative on a regular basis, and 70% of 3- and 4-year-olds attend a formal early education and care program.

The recently released Census Bureau report also looks at the summer months of 2006. “Children are less likely to have regular child care arrangements during the school break in the summer — about 55 percent of preschoolers and 58 percent of grade-schoolers were not in a regular child care placement,” according to a news release.  “The most recent data provide us with a unique opportunity to examine child care arrangements during summer months and shed light on how families manage the gap between the school year and summer,” said Lynda Laughlin, a family demographer with the Census Bureau.

The report is based on the 2005-2006 Survey of Income and Program Participation.