As I was researching the grassroots on child care in the United States, I cam across this informative article on the progression of child care in America. Although our country has progressed over the centuries, it seems that child care has been an issue that working families continue to struggle with every year. To learn more about our nations history of child care, please read this synopsis of a very insightful article:
During the Progressive Era, women reform efforts began to pick up while child care became a target for modernization. Reformers began to search for an alternative solution to the dilemma poor mothers faced being compelled to work outside the home and away from their children. Day nurseries only seemed to add to the difficulties by encouraging women to take arduous, low paying jobs while their children suffered from inadequate care. The idea of “mother’s or widows pensions” quickly came about and gained popular public support. These pensions did not challenge gender roles but rather promoted women to stay at home and care for their children. Like soldiers at the time, mothers were considered to be “serving the nation.” Unfortunately, pension coverage was sporadic and maternal employment continued to increase.
This pattern continued through the 1920’s as the U.S Children’s Bureau (CB) conducted a series of studies across the country. These studies found several instances of infant and toddler injuries as a result of them being left alone or brought into a hazardous work environment. The CB worked to strengthen mother’s pensions so that more mothers could stay at home.
The Depression caused unemployment to rise and day nursery donations to sharply fall, forcing 200 day nurseries to shut down between 1931 and 1940. Meanwhile, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a New Deal agency, established a program entitled Emergency Nursery Schools (ENS) intended to offer employment opportunities to unemployed teachers. Nearly 3,000 schools enrolling 64,000 children were started in 1933 and 1934. ENS’s were only open for part of the day and their enrollments were restricted to children of the employed. By the late 1930’s, the ENS began to suffer from high turnover rates as teachers started leaving to take on higher paying jobs forcing 1,000 schools to close down.
WWII reduced the unemployment crisis in America but created a social crisis as millions of women sought employment in war-related industries. According to the government’s guidelines, one child care slot was required for every 10 female defense workers. When the female labor force peaked at 19 million in 1944 however, only 3,000 child care centers were in operation with a capacity of 130,000 children. Popular media reported on the spread of “latchkey children” who were frequently found locked in their mother’s cars as their mother’s worked the night shift. These stories created a negative stigma for working mother’s, that they were selfish wage-earners, rather than focusing on the need for better child care in the U.S.
In 1954 Congress found an approach to child care that government could live with: the child care tax deduction. This allowed low to moderate income families to deduct $600 for child care from their income taxes. In 1958 activists formed a national organization devoted exclusively to child-care: the Inter-City Committee for Day Care of Children (ICC). From 1969 to 1971, a coalition of feminists, labor leaders, civil rights leaders, and early childhood advocates worked with Congress to legislate a universal child care policy. Their efforts failed when President Nixon vetoed the Comprehensive Child Development Act of 1971 which resulted in three decades of direct federal support for child care being limited to policies targeted to “low income” families. In the 1980’s, under the Regan administration, the balance of federal child care funding shifted. These measures stimulated the growth of voluntary and for-profit child care.
Due to its extensive history, child care in America is divided along class lines, making it difficult for parents to unit for improved services and increased child care funding.
Source: Michel, Sonya PhD. Professor of History and American Studies at University of Maryland. The History of Child Care in the U.S. 2012