Who Cares for Infants and Toddlers? Change from 2012 to 2019 and its Implications

W. Steven Barnett & Zijia Li

Executive Summary

Although most children under age 3 are cared for by parents and other family members, the percentage in formal care increases with the age of the child and has been growing over time. Between 2012 and 2019 there was a shift toward center-based care (from 17.7% to 21.5%) and a decrease in the percentage in relative and nonrelative care only (33.3% to 28.5%). The percentage of children under age 3 who experience only parental care (i.e., no regular weekly nonparental care) stayed about the same at just under 50%, though it seems to have increased for children under age 1. The trend toward center-based care applies to each age including those under age one. Changes in infant toddler care over time and by age have implications for both policy and research. Basic information about quality, parent choices, and the influence of policy, and how these vary by child age and family background is required to design better policy. The small total numbers of infants and toddlers in paid care—especially those who are most expensive to serve—compared to the total population makes policy improvements relatively affordable for the nation even if policies increased the numbers in paid care.