The Public Policy Forum recently surveyed 430 parents in southeastern Wisconsin. We find the vast majority are satisfied with the quality of their child care arrangements and their options for child care. In fact, most say they would not change anything about their child care arrangement if they had the chance.
This contradicts much of the research on early childhood education in our region, which has found that most providers are of mediocre quality.
The implication is that parents may be satisfied with what experts deem lower quality child care. Why? Either because they are not aware the quality is not optimal, or because they value different aspects of quality than do researchers and policymakers. The survey results indicate it is likely a little of both.
Parents are uncertain about state regulations and not very knowledgeable about child care accreditation. In addition, parents rank safety and the warmth and lovingness of a provider above the provider's skills and the learning environment, although all these facets of quality score highly among parents in our region.
We conclude that future efforts to regulate child care quality should take into account the high levels of parent satisfaction and acknowledge that, in some ways, the priorities of parents, the state, and experts in the field are not the same. While parents may seek and be most satisfied with a warm and loving caregiver, state policymakers have been considering new incentives that emphasize the educational quality of caregivers.
In addition, there were significant demographic and geographic differences among the sample with regard to the type of child care used and the affordability of care. For example, Hispanic parents were much less likely to utilize child care, and urban residents were much less likely to feel they had enough affordable child care options. Policymakers must take these differences into account and not attempt to craft a one-size-fits-all policy solution.
The full survey report is now available on our website.