Proceedings of the New England Meeting of the State Child Indicators Projects: Forum on School Readiness and Child Care Indicators. Work Group II: Measuring Childcare Quality, Availability, and Affordability


The moderator for this session was Sara Watson of the Finance Project. The resource persons were Jason Sachs of the Massachusetts Department of Education and Kathleen Bernier of the Frank Porter Graham Center for Child Development. At the beginning of the session, participants laid out three purposes to which indicators might be applied. These were:

  • To describe, map, and monitor trends
  • To communicate results of investment
  • To improve program access and quality

The group decided to meet as whole, rather than subdivide itself into smaller groups, each focused a single purpose. They further decided that the focus of the discussion would be on the first two purposes, with the first purpose taking center stage. The group then constructed a table listing indicators of quality, affordability, and accessibility. Once the table was constructed, participants voted on which indicators were most important. The table below presents those indicators, not in the order in which they were suggested, but with those receiving the most votes listed first. Also, in the middle of the session, Jason Sachs proposed four indicators of his own and these are presented following the table.


Table 4:
Childcare Indicators Identified by Workgroup II
Quality (each participant had 5 votes) Affordability (each participant had 3 votes) Access (each participant had 5 votes)
Education level of teachers (12 votes) The percentage of families spending more than an identified percentage of their income on childcare (15 votes) A cluster of concerns relating to use, including:
  • Is there care available for special needs children?
  • Is care available to families who work second or third shift?
  • Is care available for infants and toddlers?
  • How far must parents travel for care?
  • How much travel time is required for care? (15 votes)
Percentage of accredited programs (7 votes) The value of childcare subsidies provided in relation to the market rate for care (9 votes) Number of licensed childcare slots per 100 children who need care (12 votes)
Staff turnover rate (7 votes) The percentage of eligible families who receive subsidies (as opposed to those who, for a variety of reasons, are eligible for subsidies but do not receive them) (7 votes) Number of care opportunities available from relatives and other individuals close to the family needing care; number of unregulated (but legal) opportunities (11 votes)
Childcare environment. (This could include such measures as the number of books per child. It might also include the relationship between child and teacher, an indicator also discussed separately.) (7 votes) The true cost of childcare (7 votes) Number of programs that accept subsidies (8 votes)
Parent involvement (5 votes) The amount that families receiving subsidies need to pay the provider (4 votes) Use patterns of childcare by ethnic group (7 votes)
Relationship between child and teacher (5 votes) Childcare market rates (4 votes) Parent satisfaction with type and quality of care (6 votes)
The number of transitions a child makes per day or per year (5 votes) Parents estimation of what constitutes affordable care (no votes) Size of the illegal childcare market (4 votes)
Child manifestations of happiness or contentment (4 votes) Can parents avail themselves of a sliding fee scale in addition to any applicable subsidies (no votes) Map of available care in relation to the location of low-wage employment (4 votes)
Staff salaries or compensation (4 votes)   Amount of time families spend on waiting lists by income level (3 votes)
Childcare financing (3 votes)   Percentage of children who need care who are in Head Start or other approved preschool programs (3 votes)
Teacher-child ratio (2 votes)   Percentage of TANF clients who cannot go to work because childcare is inaccessible (2 votes)
Parent satisfaction or parent activities to address lack of satisfaction, such as moving the child to a new program (2 votes)   Number of hours each day that a child spends in unsupervised settings (1 vote)
Group size (1 vote)   Number of transitions a child makes each year (no votes)
Provider staff benefits (1 vote)   Reasons that people chose childcare (no votes)
Support services linked to the childcare center (1 vote)    
Provider violations of licensing requirements (1 vote)    
Injuries suffered to children in facilities (1 vote)    
Availability of staff training (no votes)    
Number of unannounced visits for inspection (no votes)    

Jason Sachs offered four other indicators,

  • How many more people have gone to work under welfare reform?
  • How large a portion of the economy is the childcare sector?
  • How many businesses are using local childcare?
  • What percentage of childcare facilities were designed (either newly built or redone) to be childcare facilities?

To these, a meeting participant added

  • How many families would move if they could?

Lois Haggard of Utah mentioned research indicating that women with a history of sexual abuse have difficulty leaving their children with strangers.

Once the list was created and priorities selected, discussion continued. One participant observed that a focus on child outcomes is a key to political acceptance. Another asked if research supports a relationship between quality and child outcomes, would it be enough to measure quality?

Jason then challenged the group, asking, of these measures, which could be examined with existing data today.

In the area of quality, three indicators were suggested

  • Percentage of programs accredited (general agreement)
  • Teacher turnover (one state)
  • Education level of teachers (one state)

In the area of affordability

  • Percentage of families spending an identified portion of their incomes on childcare (2 states)
  • Value of subsidies in comparison with the market rate (2 states)

In the area of accessibility

  • Number of subsidized slots (some states)
  • Number of licensed slots (some states)

The indicator judged to be the most valuable of the access measures, the cluster of factors that included the availability of shift, special needs, and other care and also transportation issues, was not thought to be measurable with existing resources.

Concluding Statements

There were few indicators of child status, and yet a focus on child outcomes (not just environment) is key politically. If research supports the relationship between quality and child outcomes, it may be sufficient, in some cases, to measure quality indicators. However, representatives from four states pointed out that they are required now to measure child outcomes for children in childcare settings.

Accreditation is a powerful political tool, as it is a proxy for many aspects of quality care. But with so few programs currently accredited, there may be a need for an overall indicator between licensing (minimal standards) and accreditation (often a very high standard).