Academic journal article Journal of Research in Rural Education (Online)

Differences in Child Care Quality in Rural and Non-Rural Areas

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Rural Education (Online)

Differences in Child Care Quality in Rural and Non-Rural Areas

Article excerpt

This study examines rural differences in one important indicator of quality for licensed child care settings-the number of children per adult. It also investigates the relationships between cost of child care, child care subsidy receipt, and child care quality for both rural and non-rural areas. We used representative child care survey data pooled across five states with geographic identification of rural status at the zip code level. While controlling for other characteristics that may affect child:adult ratios, we found infants in center care in rural areas are more likely to experience higher child:adult ratios and preschoolers in center care in rural areas are more likely to experience lower child:adult ratios than their non-rural counterparts. Toddlers in family child care are more likely to experience lower child:adult ratios in rural than urban areas. In rural areas, the cost of family child care and center care, for the toddler age group only, is significantly associated with lower ratios. Infants and preschoolers whose families receive public child care subsidies are more likely to experience higher child:adult ratios regardless of whether they reside in a rural area or not. These results address the gap in knowledge about differences in child care quality in rural and non-rural areas and demonstrate that the relationship between one indicator of quality and rural status varies by age of children and type of care. However, children receiving child care subsidies are most consistently at risk for receiving lower quality care. Policies need to be in place to ensure low-income children receiving child care subsidies in both rural and non-rural areas have equal access to higher quality licensed care.

The quality of children's early care and education experiences is increasingly tied to children's developmental outcomes including their cognitive and social development, school readiness, and overall well-being (Adams, Zaslow, & Tout, 2007; Johansen, Leibowitz & Waite, 1996; National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999). The National Research Council and Institute of Medicine (2000), in a groundbreaking publication about the importance of early childhood, concluded that the developmental effects of child care depend on variables such as safety, stable relationships, and the provision of linguistically and cognitively rich environments. The authors point out that while high quality early childhood programs advance the skills and concepts children need for succeeding in school, overall child care in this country is highly fragmented and characterized by marked variation in quality, ranging from rich, growth promoting experiences to unstimulating, highly unmotivating and sometimes unsafe settings.

This study investigates one source of possible variation in child care quality-rural and non-rural differences. We focus attention on an often overlooked population of young children-children in rural areas. We address variation in the child care experiences of rural and non-rural children on one measure of child care quality, the number of children per adult, and its association with the cost of child care and receipt of government-funded child care subsidies through the Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) for qualifying low income families. The number of children per adult, or the child:adult ratio, is a common indicator of structural quality in licensed child care settings. Though we recognize many children are in non-licensed child care settings, our study focuses on a quality measure applicable to licensed settings. Child:adult ratios are a less applicable measure of quality for unlicensed settings because these caregivers usually only care for one or two children at a time (Maher, 2007).

Although rural populations comprise one-fifth of the nation (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000), they are often neglected in research studies and public consciousness. …

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