Marlys Ann Boschee, Ed. D.
Associate Professor
University of South Dakota

Geralyn M. Jacobs, Ed.D.,
Assistant Professor
University of South Dakota

Copyright/Access Information

Family structure and the role of women within the family have changed significantly in the last two decades. Today, over one-half of the mothers who have preschool children are employed outside the home, and nearly an equal number are single parents. More and more parents are needing to turn to non-family members to help care for their children while they are employed. Supplementary care of young children by non-family members is not new, however. Throughout history families have needed to rely on others to watch over their children (Gotts, 1988).


The beginning of the day care movement originated with the welfare and reform movements of the 19th century. “Day care grew out of a welfare movement to care for immigrant and working class children while their impoverished mothers worked (Scarr & Weinberg, 1986, p. 1140).” The day care centers of today evolved from these day nurseries which began in Boston in the 1840s.

The early nurseries cared for children of working wives and widows of merchant seamen who were an economically deprived and disadvantaged group in society. Settlement houses were especially active in promoting day care for immigrant children. Jane Adams, a well known reformer in her era, developed nurseries for poor children who needed supervision and care while their parents endeavored to survive in a new land. “Day care,” according to Scarr and Weinberg (1986), “was founded… as a social service to alleviate the child care problems of parents who had to work, and to prevent young children from wandering the streets (p. 1141).”


Child care in the United State has, like many other national enterprises, has been a melting pot of ideas and interests. During the Great Depression, day care was sponsored by the Federal Government. This sponsorship was motivated by a desire to employ out-of-work adults, however, not from a belief in early education.

During World War II, the Federal Government sponsored day care for 400,000 preschool children. Again, this was not done because Congress perceived day care to be beneficial for children, but because the mothers of these children were needed to work in industries producing war materials. Ironically, after the war, the Federal government abdicated all support for day care and instructed women to quit working, go home, and take care of their children. Many women, however, chose not to accept that advice. The ranks of working women have been steadily increasing since World Was II (Scarr & Weinberg, 1986).


In addition to the Federal sponsorship of child care during World War II, a unique program began in Portland, Oregon in 1943. The Kaiser shipyards opened a child care center at the entrance of each of their two shipyards. In building the centers, they hoped to reduce the rate of absenteeism among their working mothers. Henry Kaiser built the centers, which were the world's largest child care centers and were in operation 24 hours a day. These centers had a nurse on site for children who were ill, and also provided hot meals for mothers to take home with them. The centers were models of child-centered construction, built around a courtyard with wading pools. The playrooms branching off of the courtyards had large windows and window seats that allowed children to watch the construction taking place in the yards. Cost of the care was shared by parents and the Kaiser company. In the two years they were open they served 3,811 different children (Gordon & Browne, 1996).

After the war these centers closed, but today more and more businesses are following Kaiser's example and are providing on-site child care centers for their employees. New innovations in corporate day care settings are also being tried. Stride Rite Corporation began their day care center in 1971 and have now opened an intergenerational center which provides services to toddlers and preschoolers, as well as the elderly (Berenbeim, 1992). Two Marriott hotels in Atlanta have joined forces with the Omni hotel to build a 24 hour a day, subsidized child care center. The center will offer family-support services, including immunizations, linking parents with social workers, and offering parenting classes. Eighty percent of their 250 slots are reserved for children from low-income families (Shellenbarger, 1994).


During the last half century there has been a substantial increase in the labor force among women who have children under the age of 18. In 1940 only 8.6% of mothers with children younger than 18 were in the work force (Bridgman, 1989). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 50% of women with children younger than three years of age were working in 1985. This represents a 33% increase over 1975 figures and a 47% increase over 1965 figures (Hofferth, 1987). According to the 1996 Yearbook on *The State of America's Children,* 57% of the women with children younger than three are now in the workforce and 60% of women with children younger than six. According to their figures, however, only one in seven of the child care centers these children attend and one in 10 family child care homes are considered to be high enough quality to enhance children's development (Children's Defense Fund, 1996).

There is a real need then, not just for child care, but for quality child care. The advice that Galinsky and Phillips (1989) give to parents in need of child care is: “If you have been wondering how your children will turn out…it is your relationship with your child and the child care you select that matter (p. 115).” Help for improving the quality of care provided to our nation's youngest citizens is again coming from a variety of sources.

Corporations are helping to fund a number of projects, as well as providing child care subsidies and services. For example, Levi Strauss is not only helping to subsidize care for its low income families, but is also offering grants to improve the quality of childcare programs in their community. The American Business Collaboration, which include 144 employers, has been backing improvements in both local and state child care programs. Along with AT&T, this Collaboration has awarded grants to over 500 day care facilities that are working toward attaining accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (Shellenbarger, 1994).

Help to improve childcare for families has also come from groups such as The National Association for the Education of Young Children, The Children's Defense Fund, and the Association for Childhood Education International. The quest for quality childcare must become one of the top priorities for our entire nation, though. Only then will we be able to meet the growing need for quality childcare in the future.


Berenbeim, R. E. (1992). Corporate Programs for Early Education Improvement. Report Number 1001. New York: The Conference Board.

Bridgman, A. (1989). Early Childhood Education and Childcare. Arlington, VA: American Association of School Administrators.

Children's Defense Fund (1996). The State of America's Children Yearbook, 1996. Washington, DC: Children's Defense Fund.

Galinsky, E. & Phillips, D. (1988) The day-care debate. Parents, 63, 114-116.

Gordon, A., & Browne, K.W. (1996). Beginnings and Beyond. Albany, NY: Delmar.

Gotts, E.E. (1988). The right to quality child care. Childhood Education, 64, 269-273.

Hofferth, S.L. (1987). Implications of family trends for children: A research perspective, 44, 78-84.

Scarr & Weinberg. (1986). The Early Childhood enterprise: Care and education of the young. American Psychologist, 41, 1140- 1141.

Shellenbarger, S. (1994). Companies help solve day-care problems. The Wall Street Journal, July 22, 1994.

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