Welfare Reform and Child Care Options for Low-Income Families

Bruce Fuller
University of California, Berkeley
Sharon Lynn Kagan
Columbia University
Gretchen L. Caspary
American Academy of Pediatrics
Christiane A. Gauthier
University of California, Berkeley


For the changes under welfare reform to posi­tively affect children, the gains that mothers make from employment must lead to improve­ments in children's daily settings at home, in childcare, at school, or in the community. This article focuses on the role childcare can play in promoting the development of, and life oppor­tunities for, low-income children. Key observa­tions include:

  • Total federal and state funding for childcare for welfare and working poor families has in­creased dramatically since welfare reform, from $2.8 billion in 1995 to $8.0 billion in 2000.
  • The majority of welfare mothers tend to rely on informal childcare arrangements when first participating in welfare-to-work pro­grams, but as they move off welfare and into more stable jobs, they are more likely to choose a center or a family childcare home.
  • Although children from poor households stand to benefit the most from high-quality care, they are less likely to be enrolled in high­-quality programs than are children from affluent families, partly due to uneven access to high-quality options in their neighborhoods.
  • Less than one quarter of all eligible families use childcare subsidies and usage varies wide­ly across states and local areas reflecting vari­ous barriers to access and scarcity of quality center-based care.

To achieve welfare reform's ultimate goal of breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty and dependence on government benefits, welfare-to-work programs should promote learning and development among children in welfare and working poor families by increasing access to high-quality childcare in low-income neigh­borhoods.

This article was originally published in The Future of Children by Princeton University and Journal Storage (JSTOR).

Suggested citationFuller, B., Kagan, S. L., Caspary, G. L., & Gauthier, C. A. (2002, January). Welfare reform and child care options for low-income families [Article]. Policy Analysis for California Education.