But just finding child care can be a major challenge, with 1 in 5 parents saying there was only one “realistic” child care option for his or her child.
It will come as no surprise, but cost was the most common challenge in finding child care, with 27 percent of people saying it’s an issue. Four in 10 parents (39 percent) say that the cost of paid child care in their area is not affordable for them.
That could be a major reason why child care is one of the few domestic social issues getting any attention in the current presidential campaign. (We’ve detailed the candidates’ positions below.)
In addition to asking parents about quality and cost in our poll, we wanted to find out how they perceive the impact that child care has on their child and themselves — and whether child care has lasting effects.
The most surprising finding was that parents, particularly mothers, feel child care has benefited their own health and well-being, as well as their relationship with the child.
Half the mothers said it had a “very positive effect” on their relationship with their spouse and an even larger percentage, 64 percent, saw a very positive effect on their relationship with their child.
We also wanted to find out what happens when a child is sick and can’t go to child care. The results: Mothers are more likely to stay home than fathers. And our results suggest that traditional views of gender roles may foster this dynamic. When parents said mothers are most likely to stay home, 16 percent said it was because it was their responsibility to take care of the child, while just 4 percent of parents viewed it as the father’s responsibility.
One of the strongest findings in the poll was that 86 percent feel that care in early childhood has a “major impact” on a child’s long-term well-being.
While it is perhaps not terribly surprising that 84 percent said there was a major impact on kindergarten readiness, it’s worth noting that 52 percent said there was a major impact on job success later in life.
Presidential candidates’ child care platforms
Hillary Clinton has proposed universal access to preschool for 4-year-olds within 10 years, and she would seek to double funding for the Early Head Start and Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership programs as well as increasing funding for child development and support programs for children under age 3 and pregnant women. She is also calling for 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for both parents. And she has proposed capping the amount a family spends on child care at 10 percent of income, among several other actions aimed at reducing costs.
Donald Trump has proposed allowing all parents to deduct the average cost of child care in their state from their income taxes, limiting it to those who make under $250,000 as a single parent or $500,000 for a couple. He would also allow tax-free contributions of up to $2,000 a year to dependent care savings accounts, with a 50 percent federal government match for low-income parents, up to $1,000. Trump also has proposed a paid maternity leave program.
Libertarian candidate Gary Johnston has not proposed anything specific on child care, while the Green Party’s Jill Stein has called for universal child care.
The child care and health series
There’s a lot more in the full poll report, but one final note: Parents perceive significant differences in quality depending on where they get care — from a relative versus a nonrelative versus a center.
NPR will provide in-depth reporting on the results of this poll in a series of radio and online reports over the coming weeks, including a story on Morning Edition Tuesday that explores the giant disconnect between parents and experts when it comes to quality.
We’ll also live stream an expert panel at Harvard discussing these issues, Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. ET on NPR.org.