Steep Decline in Regulated Family Child Care

The decline of family child care was a topic recently when the Joint Finance Committee members discussed issues with the Department of Children and Families (DCF) on March 29, 2017. Senator Sheila Harsdorf was concerned about the sharp decline of family child care. She has heard from her constituents that the decline may be due to the demands of child care licensing and the YoungStar quality rating and improvement system. DCF SecretaryEloise Anderson said that the drop in family child care is a national trend, and that parents may be more interested in placing their children in group child care centers. Whatever the causes, the trend is very clear.

61% Drop in Family Child Care Providers

Our analysis shows a stunning drop in Wisconsin regulated family child care programs in the last 10 years (2007-2016), declining from 6,801 programs to 2,807—a 61% drop.

The number of licensed family child care centers had a 42% drop, from 3,110 to 1,793. Licensed family child care can served up 8 children, with more stringent regulations than certified programs.

The largest drop was in the number of certified family child care providers, a 75% decline from 4,059 to 1,008. Certified child care providers serve no more than 3 unrelated young children.

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Most Children (87%) are in Child Care Centers

In January 2016, 87% percent of children in regulated programs were in group child care centers, not counting licensed day camp. The number of larger licensed group child care centers declined only 8%, from 2,473 to 2,267. Centers can serve many children (9 or more) at a time, so most children in regulated programs are in centers.

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What Does this Trend Mean?

Five years ago WCCF analyzed the drop in family child care in Wisconsin, and asked our readers why they thought family child care is in decline. We think the decline has a significant impact on children and families, particularly in rural areas. We’re seeing a similar downward trend in the number of children and families participating in the Wisconsin Shares child care subsidy program: the more rural the county, the fewer percent of children are getting child care subsidies. In less populous areas, family child care is the primary option. We believe there may be a strong link between the decline in regulated family child care programs and the participation in the subsidy program.

Here are possible reasons for the decline.

  1. More requirements and tighter enforcement through regulation and the YoungStar rating and quality improvement may be more than small family child care businesses want to deal with.
  2. The economy may have a significant impact, with loss of jobs and less demand.
  3. Parents may be choosing larger programs including four-year-old kindergarten that are available in 98% of school districts and preferring larger group centers with high-quality ratings.
  4. Family child care staying “underground” serving fewer children (or operating illegally), avoiding licensing, the subsidy program, and YoungStar. Some family child care providers indicate that the requirements are overwhelming.
  5. Family child care providers work hard for long hours and often with low pay.

Please send us any comments.

Dave Edie, Early Education Policy Analyst,