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Origins of Federally Funded Child Care
November 9, 2022
Love is at the root of everything. All learning. All parenting. All relationships. Love, or the lack of it.
-Fred Rogers, 1928-2003, American television personality

Elliot Haspel recently challenged his Twitter followers to guess when the first federally funded child care program was created. While over half his followers guessed 1941, 15% guessed correctly: According to the article cited by Haspel, "Established in Philadelphia in 1863, it provided a facility for the children of women employed in wartime clothing factories and hospitals. After the war, this particular nursery continued to receive Federal money in order to care for children of working war widows." Haspel’s poll got me curious…

The Bipartisan Policy Center reports the first large-scale federally-funded program was created in 1933 as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), in response to the Great Depression. The Emergency Nursery School Program served between 44,000 and 72,000 children, ages 2 to 5, each year.

According to the Office of Head Start, that program began in 1964 as "an eight-week demonstration project designed to help break the cycle of poverty, It gave preschool children from families with low income a comprehensive program to meet their emotional, social, health, nutritional, and educational needs."

Today, state and federal funding continue to lag behind needs. According to an analysis by the First Five Years Fund, while 65% of children in the United States have "all available parents" in the workforce,

  • In almost all states, the Child Care and Development Block Grant program (CCDBG) reaches less than 15% of eligible children.
  • In 50% of states, CCDBG reaches less than 10% of eligible children.
  • In a vast majority of all states, Head Start reaches less than 1 in 5 eligible children.


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