Access to Child Care and Early Education

Child Trends’ early childhood team has created a family-centered access framework that accounts for the multiple factors that families consider when making decisions about early care and education (ECE). This framework defines access to ECE opportunities in relation to families’ ability to find affordable child care, with a reasonable amount of effort, that meet their needs and preferences as parents and meets the needs of their children. Traditionally, however, access to child care was defined as a match (or mismatch) between the supply of care and the demand for it. Research now shows that these match calculations overestimate access by not accounting for the care arrangements that families search for, prefer, and need. Using the access framework, we now better understand which families—and under what conditions—encounter barriers or bridges to access, particularly for families who have been marginalized by systemic inequities.