By Suzanne W. Helburn and Barbara R. Bergmann.
This analysis by two American economists is unflinching in its critique of childcare provision in the US. They talk about the “affordability problem” that childcare presents for families in a society where both parents are compelled to work. As most American parents work for very modest levels of remuneration purchasing childcare presents a huge financial demand for all but the wealthiest. The authors also discuss the “quality problem” – the fact that in this unregulated market care is provided by cheap untrained labour while parents are desperate for (but are not getting) accurate information on the quality of services they seek.
The importance of the authors’ efforts is in their meticulous thinking about how to use marketplace dynamics to improve the system. In this context they weigh options such as tax credits, direct public funding and vouchers among other devices. Practitioners in family support and early years work will have an interest in their criteria for deciding the strengths of specific childcare providers. The authors’ appraisal of out of school programmes and the impact of racial difference will also resonate.
John Pierson is senior lecturer, Institute of Social Work and Applied Social Studies, Staffordshire University.