Child Care and the State
March 2011
Report 367


The State of Michigan is involved in early child care in multiple ways, including regulation and licensing of child care providers and facilities to ensure the basic health and safety of young children. Registration and licensing rules dictate the maximum number of children a provider may care for, the minimum training of child care workers, and inspection criteria. The state has adopted standards of quality child care that include development and learning goals for infant and toddler programs organized around well-being, belonging, exploration, communication, and contribution. The state also administers a program that provides child care payments to caregivers of children from eligible low income families to promote self sufficiency and prevent welfare dependency. In addition, a complex system of service providing, resource, and referral organizations has been created to improve child care quality and availability statewide, and to inform parents about child development and child care resources. The policy questions related to these state programs are rooted in basic questions about the role of the family and the role of government, about the importance of early experiences to future success in school and in life, and about the relationship of child care and the workforce.

Child Care Arrangements

Young children may be cared for in center-based care, which includes day care centers, Head Start programs, preschool, nursery school, pre-kindergarten, and other programs; in their own home by an immediate family member, relative, sitter, or nanny; in a family care arrangement in another home; or in multiple arrangements. Studies have demonstrated that ordinary baby sitting has the smallest initial beneficial effects on children’s learning and development. Family day care homes have no effect on cognitive development, and child care centers typically produce small short-term effects. Center-based preschool programs vary widely in structure and operation, but higher quality programs produce larger gains in cognitive and language abilities. While home-based care may be better for very young children, research has demonstrated that center-based care is more effective in substantially increasing language, literacy, and math knowledge and skills in older pre-K children.

A number of factors have contributed to the increase in the number of children in paid child care. The potential value of high quality, center-based care was demonstrated in several early intervention programs conducted in the 1960s and 1970s. While these projects targeted high-risk, disadvantaged children, more recent evaluations of the skill levels of children in various child care arrangements have also demonstrated beneficial outcomes for advantaged children in center-based care, as well. The need for child care arrangements has accelerated as more women with young children have entered the labor force. In addition, welfare reform in 1996 focused on moving poor women from welfare to work by ending entitlements to cash assistance and requiring work in exchange for time-limited assistance; the need for child care was considered a structural barrier to the employment of poor women. The percentage of single women who had preschool age children and who were in the labor force increased from 53.0 percent in 1995 (before welfare reform) to 70.5 percent in 2000 (after welfare reform).

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