Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Once again, Massachusetts is among the states with the nation’s least affordable child care according to “Parents and the High Cost of Child Care: 2011 Update,” from the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies. NACCRRA measures affordability by comparing cost with the state’s median income. In addition, in straight dollar terms, full-time child care in Massachusetts is the most expensive of the 50 states.

More than 11 million children in the U.S. are in some form of early education and care each week, NACCRRA notes. “In 36 states, the average annual cost for center-based care for an infant was higher than a year’s tuition and related fees at a four-year public college “In every state, center-based child care costs for two children (an infant and a 4-year-old) exceeded annual average rent payments,” NACCRRA finds, according to its news release. Nationally, overall costs increased 1.9% in centers and 1.8% in family child care homes between 2009 and 2010, but in Massachusetts costs decreased slightly. NACCRRA cautions that some states with relatively more affordable care also have less stringent regulations for quality.

Here are some highlights of NACCRRA’s findings for Massachusetts:

“During the critical years of birth through age 5, 90% of a child’s brain is developed and essential learning patterns are established which affect school-readiness,” NACCRRA Executive Director Linda K. Smith says in the news release. “Children need to be safe in child care and they also need to be in a setting that promotes their healthy development or our early childhood policies undermine our school readiness goals. It is time for policymakers to recognize that connection. Children spend an average of 35 hours a week in child care which means child care is a key early learning program.”

NACCRRA makes a number of recommendations, including requiring the National Academy of Sciences “to study the true cost of quality care and to offer recommendations to Congress for financing to support quality options for parents.” The group also recommends adding requirements to improve quality to the reauthorization of the Child Care Development Block Grant program and requiring the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to establish a definition of minimally acceptable care for children from low-income families.

Read the full report,  executive summary, conclusion and recommendations, appendix tables and background brief.